a picture of an acorn: a new autism symbol
Autism Advocacy

Through My Eyes: feeling included

Hello again, everyone. Thank you for reading and I hope you are finding my insights helpful. Today, I want to talk about how difficult it is for people with autism and other disabilities to feel included by our more typical peers.

I have mentioned in a previous post how I have frequently felt jealous of others who are my same age but were having vastly different experiences as they matured. An age-level appropriate education is one of those experiences, for sure. I would have loved to have been challenged in high school with real grades, AP tests, and college-entrance exams. But no one knew that my mind was capable of advanced learning, as my communication skills precluded me from showing my intelligence. 

So, I was stuck in a classroom that was labeled “self-contained.”  What an appropriate name!  Yes, everything that I knew and all my aspirations were definitely tightly contained within my own self. Personally, I think all kids with limited language should get to be included in the general school population and be given the accommodations necessary for them to succeed in that environment, even if the gains are not as easily measured as with their verbal counterparts.  Assume we can learn! That should be the default.

The other thing that makes me jealous is not having the ability to form normal social relationships with others. Communication is the basis of social interaction, good or bad. When the mechanism for communication is severely limited, socialization shuts down. I think that a lot of people assume that if you have autism then you shy away from other people and prefer to be by yourself. It is also assumed that we cannot empathize or put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I would say that for many, if not most of us, those assumptions are inaccurate.  I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, it is really my communication challenges and social anxiety that makes it difficult to have friends, not my desire or my emotional capacity. 

So, I’ll try to end with some practical advice to help us feel included.

  1. Assume that our minds and emotions are intact on the inside even if that is hard to see when looking at our “shells.”   
  2. Even small attempts at inclusion are appreciated. Sometimes we may not reciprocate the effort, but we always notice it. 
  3. Find things that we can do together or any common interests and figure out a way to do them.  It might feel like the interaction is one sided, but even parallel play is better than no play.   
  4. See us! Say hi. Give us five or a fist bump. It feels good to be acknowledged. 
  5. When we show our talents, share them with the world so that there can be a collective gain in the understanding of our potential. I think if more people can learn to see our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses, then life will be better for everyone.  


  • Elizabeth Downing

    Hi Aaron,
    This is your great aunt, Elizabeth Downing. I am your grandpa Jepson’s, sister. My husband Leonard and I are currently called to be the Directors at a FamilySearch Center in American Fork, Utah. We currently have 21 service missionaries working at the Center. I know that two of them have autism, and I suspect that there are a few others who are somewhere on the autism spectrum. None of them have severe difficulty with speach, but some of them struggle with communication.

    You have a great mission too! I have been watching you grow up and have loved seeing what you are doing here. Everything you say helps me to be a better person and a better Director of missionaries with challenges. Thank you so much!

  • Chris Taylor

    Aaron, thank you for describing how real connections with other people are so valuable in our individual progression in life. I hope this short note helps you appreciate how your connection with me is helping me grow and learn. I will try to follow your guidance in my relationships!

  • Lucas J. Youngblood

    Hi Aaron,

    This is Lucas, from rural Northern California. I teach students with disabilities in Humboldt County. I have worked with several non-verbal students with autism and watching your ‘light-the-world’ video and reading your writing lights a fire under me to help those students unlock their voices. My mother-in-law is a speech language pathologist assistant and she works with non-verbal students with autism and my father-in-law drives students with disabilities to school, so it’s basically a family business at this point.

    The school I work at is becoming more inclusive, but there are still some teachers who feel uncomfortable with the idea of inclusion. I think that exposing them to your words might be enough to tip the scales in favor of inclusion. You’re an inspiration to me and my teaching practice will always be different because of you and the loving and persistent people who helped you find your voice.

    I appreciate you, brother. If I ever meet you in real life I’m probably going to be stoked and give you a big hug so I’ll ask for your forgiveness advance if I’m too emotionally expressive. Excited to read more of your writing.

    – Lucas Youngblood

    I’m not sure if you have made any other videos after Light-the-World, but I know that video content that tells your story would have a huge impact on other schools considering more inclusive practices. Food for thought.

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