OUR STORIES WITH AUTISM
The Autism diagnosis he was given rushed us in a new world I never knew existed. The more I learned about this disorder and its challenges, the more I realized my story resembles that of hundreds of other families in San Diego. Just when I felt I am on my own, trying to navigate this world of uncertainties and continuous struggle, I found myself surrounded by other caregivers, wanting exactly what I want and longing for it the same way I am.
We all aspire for our children to be happy and accomplished in life, with or without special needs. Nevertheless, when Autism is involved, prejudices and lack of understanding make these aspirations almost impossible; the vast majority of adults on the Autism Spectrum live in group homes and do not actively contribute back to their community.
Even the lucky ones who found jobs when they age out of the school system will soon leave their jobs due to worsened anxiety and constant rejections. Sadly enough, we advocate so much for increased awareness and inclusion, yet, we expect those impacted with Autism to integrate in our social norms with absolutely no accommodation. We train them to fit in the mold we created and we reject them as soon as they fail. We have no problem showing our irritation by the fact that a large and increasing number of adults with Autism require continuous support yet we don’t allow them to provide for themselves.
My dream is that this reality will change !! Just as we tailored school programs to allow for learning opportunities for children with autism, why not create small businesses tailored for them when they age out of the school system? Why not allow them to continue to actively participate in their communities?
This will be a labor of love and it will only be possible with your YOUR contribution!!! Please donate !!
My name is Matthew Walters. I’m twenty-two years old, and have been living in San Diego for the past seven years. I have high-functioning autism, which has manifested itself in many ways throughout my entire life.
I was born in the Inland Empire, which is a region of San Bernardino. The first few years of my life were chaotic, as both of my parents were recovering alcoholics who separated and split care of me when I was three. I attended a Christian private school from kindergarten to sixth grade; the school was in a remote area and did not provide appropriate diagnostic/screening services for children with academic, emotional, or social difficulties.
My father passed away when I was nine, resulting in me becoming depressed and exhibiting many behavioral problems both at home and at school. I was always withdrawn, defiant, and impulsive, but after my father’s passing, I became even more isolated, shut down, sad, and depressed. I saw many therapists on and off since age nine and also received psychotropic medications.
In 2013, at age fifteen, I moved in with my sister due to both issues at home (with my mother, who was beginning to abuse pain medications and return to drinking alcohol), and school (which wanted to put me in a “school” for children with learning disabilities and emotional disturbances- it was essentially a daycare for students my high school did not want to provide additional resources to). I went to a charter school sophomore to senior year, during which I continued to have many struggles due to undiagnosed issues. I still completed all my required classes and credits by the middle of senior year.
In March of 2016, while I was volunteering at my sister’s job (but was still technically enrolled in my charter high school; I was a prototype of sorts for a new required internship that the school wanted to employ), I was formally assessed by SDUSD, where I was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now known as high-functioning autism). After I graduated, I was quickly overwhelmed with anxiety regarding my volunteering and began to have a very structured daily routine which included, doing chores, receiving therapy, taking the bus/trolley to and from the library and reading or doing extracurricular activities for about two to three hours, and spending the rest of my day isolating myself in my room.
In June of 2018, I worked as a textile sorter at a retail store for three months; unfortunately, I aggravated an unknown, pre-existing condition which I would come to find out was early-onset psoriatic arthritis. After months of physical therapy and doctor’s appointments, I made a close to full recovery, but was afraid to try any new work. I did, however, start to volunteer around my RDI therapy office, doing anything from laminating papers to using makeshift tools to pick the ice out of a flooded and frozen mini fridge
After COVID-19 began in earnest, I struggled to find something to give my life meaning, as volunteering and/or having social meetings was no longer a possibility. However, in mid-August of 2020, during a FaceTime call with my therapist I found out about a new business dedicated to giving people with autism a chance at a fair job, willing to meet them where they were at; this was my first introduction to Blissful Seeds.
Ever since I started working with Blissful Seeds, I have felt like I have purpose; even something as seemingly simple as making and selling soap has added so much value to my life. Rita has always been very kind, understanding, and able to communicate instructions in an easy way for me to comprehend. It’s very nice to have something consistent to do, especially during these times of so much uncertainty.
Abel & Genet
Our family hails from Cincinnati with Ethiopian roots, and two years ago we made the leap to move to the beautiful San Diego. Abel wasn’t always a carefree, ball of energy as many know him to be. At the time, accommodations and resources for children with autism were scarce and rarely available. Pairing that with my own confusion as a parent of where to go and what to do next, Abel struggled with behavior problems that caused him to move from school to school.
Every new school came with push back from school administrators who were unfamiliar with how to treat autistic students, and reduced them to “troubled kids”. It was hard for them to see the entire picture of a child who wasn’t given the opportunity to interact with his peers and be understood. His behaviors, such as running away and acting aggressively, were a response to his oftentime high-stress environment.
It seems like I spent every other day going into school offices and settling grievances with teachers that I never allowed myself to unwind, which affected my ability to be the best parent and wife I could be. I learned the hard way, that frantically spending all my energy reserves wasn’t healthy nor the solution to his problems. I learned to value peace and balance and spent more time with my son. Moving to San Diego, we were able to explore and experience even more memories with my family, while finally finding the support I need. But there aren’t simple happy endings. I refocused myself into looking for an independent and happy future for my son. Though San Diego—I’ve noticed— is more accepting towards individuals with autism, I still worried that he would have a hard time being self-sufficient in a workspace or be discriminated against.
I found many different parent groups who have kids with developmental disorders and met a friend who introduced me to Blissful Seeds. I love the idea and it gave me hope for Abel's future. It became a family effort and we were all involved in helping Abel make the products, being there at the Farmer’s Market, and having lessons from his ABA sessions about social interaction with customers. We saw a lot of excitement and progress with Abel, along with his new skills in customer service and handling money.
Blissful Seeds gave him a chance to thrive and an opportunity for him to shine. Blissful Seeds is a place where Abel feels that his work has value and is being compensated for it. The confidence that working at Blissful Seeds has given my son is invaluable and has provided me a big step towards his goals in the future.