Freeman of the Press: Seeing the world through the eyes of autism

by Laura Freeman | Reporter Published:

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

This quote is from one of my favorite books, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, when Atticus Finch advises his daughter, Scout, about understanding those who are different.

Some students planning to teach special needs students recently walked in the shoes of someone special.

Jordyn Zimmerman, 19, spoke in February to a group of University of Akron students studying to be intervention specialists, general education teachers and administrators. She gave them a glimpse into what it means to live with autism.

Zimmerman, of Hudson, would like to be an intervention specialist but has had to face difficult hurdles. Since sixth grade, she has been in five alternative placements. She said teachers don't always understand how she learns.

"What they don't realize is that I am not dumb. I don't want to be spoken to like I am stupid," she said.

Now she has a voice. Her mother purchased an electronic notepad about a year ago and added a "text to speech" application. Zimmerman types in what she wants to say and a voice speaks for her.

Although she can talk, it can be a challenge to go through the steps most of us take for granted.

"I can say things better and people can understand me [with the device]," she types.

Her words make it clear she is intelligent, thoughtful and has plenty to say. She explained how her brain works to the college students and why it's easier to type.

"First I have to think of a word and figure out if I even know what that word means," Zimmerman said. "Then I have to figure out how to pronounce the word so everyone can understand me. Next I have to modulate my voice to the appropriate volume and tone so that it isn't too loud or too quiet. Lastly, I've got to talk and make sentences."

Zimmerman said her brain moves faster than her mouth, and she has to fight to speak out loud.

"It is very frustrating," she said. "I also miss a lot of what I want to say, and sometimes I say different things than what I mean or want to say."

Listening to others works in the opposite way, Zimmerman said.

"Instead of moving fast, it moves slow," she said. "Words enter my ears but it takes extra time for me to process the meaning."

Zimmerman said most of her behaviors are due to deficits in her sensory system, but she wants to learn.

"I have internal fights with my body on a daily basis. I bite my fingers when my hands feel tense. I bang my head against the wall when my body is craving input. If I don't do these things, my whole body actually hurts," she said. "My brain always instructs me to do one thing, but for some reason my body does something else."

She can read but doesn't always understand what she's read.

"I also don't know my left or right, and I haven't been able to learn how to tell time on an analog clock. But I shouldn't be defined by my limits," Zimmerman said.

She decided early in her life to be a special education teacher.

"I want to assist kids who are very intelligent internally but have to be taught how to show their true potential," she said.

Zimmerman told the future educators her story in the hopes it will change how they view special need students.

She isn't deaf or oblivious to the way teachers treat her.

"Remember that when you are working with a student, your words, actions and attitude will impact their life more than their disability ever will," she said.

Zimmerman told the future teachers to encourage their special need students to pursue their dreams.

"Make sure you tell them you believe in them and pledge to make a difference," she said. "Remember this: the smallest gesture you can make can have the biggest impact on a student's life."

The college students wrote 120 letters to Zimmerman to tell her how grateful they were she had shared her experience with them. They encouraged her to pursue her dream of being a teacher.

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434

Facebook: Laura Freeman, Record Publishing

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

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