By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
A National Institute of Mental Health website states that people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have “ongoing social problems” that include “difficulty communicating and interacting with others.” Such difficulties may include having repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities, and communication deficits impairing the person's ability to function at school, work, or socially. Symptoms usually become apparent the first two years of life.
Kenzie Smith, 17, of Hillsboro, Ohio, was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome “three or four years ago,” she said in a telephone interview. (Asperger's syndrome no longer exists as a diagnosis. Within the last year or so it has been lumped in with ASD.)
She said, “I was devastated (with the diagnosis) and thought, What? I have this? I wasn't very happy about it. I don't remember much else about it except I'm a little ashamed about (having autism). I just feel different than others. I don't really hang out with people much, but would like to. I feel like I bother people sometimes, especially around new people. Mostly they have to start the conversation or I feel like I'm bothering them.”
Smith takes vocational school classes, studies graphics, and has befriended another student with high-functioning autism. Smith has played trombone in the school band and been a basketball cheerleader. Like many people diagnosed with ASD, she has special interests consuming much of her spare time, including, with her, a love of dogs, cars, and art.
As for dogs, she has three: 15-year-old Biscuit; Gracie, a dachshund mix; and Boxer, a pure-bred pit bull. She said, “Dogs are loyal, the most loyal animals on earth, and they are sweet. They pretty much love you more than they love themselves.”
As for her love of cars and of art, she said, in part, “I've done drawings of cars and trucks, including a 1960 Chevrolet Apache, a 1965 Ford Mustang, and a 1968 Dodge Charger. I took up art in 2012. I'm starting on drawing another car this year. I draw other kinds of things too, including dogs.” She and her father have plans to restore their aging Chevrolet Apache.
She advised young people diagnosed with ASD: “I would tell them they're not the only ones. Everyone has something wrong with them. Being different is okay. It's what makes them special and makes them, them.” Although acknowledging having been diagnosed with one, Smith said she really didn't feel as if she had a disability.
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