Last week I had my 850th presentation for Easterseals Midwest in Troy, Missouri and I thought I had seen it all and done it all but it wasn’t until after the presentation that I was wrong about seeing it all and through it I found true inspiration.
Inspiration is a tricky thing to define and I’ve been asked what inspires me many times to which I usually give an answer that goes nowhere. At the end of my presentation, however, a young gentleman came up to me and he bought one of my books and left. A few minutes went by and he came back and that’s when it happened.
In my life the hardest thing to do is to talk about my difficulties. Sure, I can do it in a presentation but out in public off the stage I can’t do it but this gentleman came up to me, composed, and started talking about his difficulties in life and in particular the difficulties with processing delays and what he can do and say about it. I tensed up at this point because I knew my answer had a lot of weight on it. It’s easy to stand up on a stage or in front of a room for me but when a direct question like this is asked I know the great level of courage it took to ask it and I know my answer will be remembered for a long time.
My answer began with the fact autism awareness is increasing. I mentioned that even just a decade ago few would’ve even had the foggiest notion about what advocating about a processing delay would ever mean, but it just so happened two days prior in Marceline, Missouri a fifth grader asked a rather articulate question with, “What does it mean if a person has a processing delay and what can I do to help someone that has it?” In telling this story to the gentleman that was now in front of me I knew I had to expand on this and give him the power and that’s when his true courage and the power of the moment hit me.
I was about to cry. I’ve thought I’ve been courageous in my journey and many will attest to that, but this man in front of me asking such a personal question and asking it in a way in a sense of shame is the foundation for changing this world! And I told him this by saying, “One thing you can do is to open up if you need more time. It’s okay! Will everyone give you the time you need? No, and that’s okay because many will and if someone asks you why you need it and if you can keep the courage you have right now you, yourself, are the autism ambassador and you can change the world!”
That answer… I didn’t really know where it came from but outside the conversation bubble of him and myself all were in tears and this reinforced my belief that it is that type of courage that we all need. I think back to a few years after my diagnosis in the 2000’s when I had a chance to meet Temple Grandin and I said something short of five words. I was incapable of talking about my difficulties because I was too afraid of them. Could I have said anything about challenges? Most certainly not and that’s why I can now answer the question as to what inspires me. It wasn’t some major celebrity, it isn’t a gigantic entity, but rather one person at a small presentation in Troy, Missouri that stood up, took a leap and spoke up.