Four years ago I accidently learned of the word ASPERGER’S. A co-worker’s son had just gotten diagnosed, and she handed me an article about Asperger’s Syndrome. As I read it, all the pieces of the puzzle of my life fell into place creating the whole picture. I now realized why I was so different, why I never fit in. On my way home from work that evening I stopped at Barnes & Noble to purchase all the books they had on Asperger’s Syndrome. I stayed up all night reading Dr. Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. It was as if he knew me from the second I was born. Several weeks later I got my formal diagnosis.
I then wrote a memoir ASPERGER’S SYNDROME: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade. World famous Dr. Temple Grandin called me one Saturday night to ask if she could feature me in a book she was starting. That book, DIFFERENT….NOT LESS was released in March of 2012 and I am Chapter 7, Nurse Anesthetist & Aviation Writer. I then was interviewed by Craig Evans, Founder of autismhangout.com. After the interview I mentioned to Craig that I want to help people on the Autism Spectrum on a global scale. Several days later he contacted me to see if I’d be interested in working on a big project that he and Dr. Tony Attwood were discussing. It was a global project for sure, and would help hundreds of thousands of people on the spectrum, young and old. The culmination of our diligent work is a book published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing, Been There. Done That. Try This! The Aspie Mentor Guide to Life on Earth. It contains 180 essays from 30 Aspie Mentors including Temple Grandin, Stephen Shore, Liane Holliday Willey, Jennifer Cook O’Tool, Lars Perner, myself, and many more. It is our life wisdom to help others achieve their best life possible. It also provides insight into the Aspie mind for therapists, educators, parents, and everyone who comes in contact with us. There are also incredible images from Aspie artists, notably Michael Tolleson.
My desire to help others on the Autism Spectrum has grown stronger than ever. I recently started my not-for-profit organization, the Flying High with Autism Foundation. While some big organizations state they are trying to find a cure for Autism, my mission is far different than that. My goal is to enable those on the Autism Spectrum to soar to heights they never thought possible. As my dear friend Eustacia Cutler says, “We are different, but not less.” Being different does not, and should not, necessitate the need for a cure. While it is true that we face many challenges, however, we possess many gifts that far outweigh those difficulties. I like to share with everyone all of my life’s accomplishments not to brag, but to give hope to show what someone on the Spectrum can accomplish! I am that ray of sunshine to the parents who fear their child will never amount to anything because of their everyday struggles. I had those very same struggles, but with hard work and perseverance I have accomplished incredible things.
In elementary school, the Principle told my mother I’d never amount to anything. That’s something most every parent I’ve talked to has heard. Well, I graduated from Columbia University in New York City in 1988 with my Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia, and have been working ever since as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. I specialize in anesthesia for neurosurgery. I’ve done over 50,000 cases to date. I’m an internationally published military aviation photojournalist and have flown in an F-15 fighter jet and Navy helicopter. I’m an accomplished equestrienne, and used to ride show jumpers in competition over six foot high fences. I used to do Ice Dancing for seven years and skated in competitions and shows. I love to paint with acrylics, do sculpting, and make old-fashioned handcrafted soaps. Now I devote all of my free time to writing books and building my Foundation, all to help others on the Autism Spectrum! I can be seen on The Autism Channel, in both a documentary Born with Asperger’s, and also being interviewed by Daniel Heinlein, also an Aspie, on his show I am Autistic.
I have also organized a huge Autism Conference to be held on June 7th & 8th at the University of West Florida, the Flying High with Autism Conference. For this event I joined forces with East Hill Academy. They are a not-for-profit school for children on the Spectrum. They run a top-notch program and serve our community well. I am very proud to have their logo displayed with mine.
My biggest goal is to make Pensacola the Autism Mecca of the world. I have a huge plan that will begin to unfold immediately following the conference. It will start out in Pensacola but then travel around the world. It is actually not just an organization, but a Grassroots Movement that I am starting. I will change the face of Autism around the world. I will unite our people everywhere. The fact of the matter is, all of the great inventors were/are on the Spectrum. The very people who bring warmth, technology, and life as we know it today were different. If they were like the masses they would never have made their accomplishments happen. I believe the biggest hurdle we face is getting society to understand and accept us. I know there are people out there already starting to make this happen. My dear friend, Dr. Stephen Shore, is one of them. He literally travels the globe to bring autism awareness, knowledge, and strategies to every corner of the earth. Dr. Tony Attwood, Dr. Temple Grandin, Jennifer O’Tool, Dena Gassner, Daniel Heinlein, Ray Smithers, these are just a handful of people I personally know out there fighting for us. But I plan to take this crusade to the next level, the one that will reach everyone, everywhere. You could say I’m starting a Revolution, because that’s actually what needs to happen. I am fighting to unite all our people around the world, and get us the rights to a happy and fulfilling life. We all deserve those rights, just like everyone else does. Gays and people of color would not be where they are today if they didn’t have someone start a Revolution to get them there. Take, for example, Nelson Mandela. He changed the world for his people. To even further help me reach this epic event, I’ve recently read Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. It offered me details to be sure I cover in my quest for AUTISM WORLD ACCEPTANCE. It is the biggest goal I’ve ever set my sights on, but it can and will be accomplished.