By Jonathan Murphy (As told to Jodi Murphy for the upcoming Autism Society Convention)
When you encounter me today, the man you see before you is a galaxy’s distance away from the boy I used to be. I was the kid in the corner pacing back and forth, the boy who wanted to go unnoticed and left to live inside my own mind’s palace. I wouldn’t look you in the eye. I just didn’t have the confidence to peer into your soul. The eyes are piercing gateways and it was just too difficult for me to ‘see’ you. So I’d have to look to your left or right in order to focus on what you were saying.
I was a hedgehog.
I read that someone once said that autism is like being a hedgehog. They want to get close to other hedgehogs but because of their spines, they’re afraid if they get too close, it will hurt. That was me. I wanted to reach out to people but I was so afraid of getting rejected. And I had a reason to be fearful because kids my age never understood me. Whenever I was the real me, I got laughed at or bullied. No, best to keep my head down and remain invisible.
I learned to engage and connect.
My mother was (and is) always working behind the scenes to find environments where I feel safe—places with people who could help me come out of my shell, shed my anxieties and discover my true potential. She has a special ‘brainstorming’ technique that allows her to think outside-the-box to find great opportunities for me. When she found the Stanbridge Academy, a very unique school for kids with learning disabilities, I began my journey towards engagement and connection. I had teachers who cared and wouldn’t let me hide and retreat from the spotlight. They consistently pushed me to the forefront, asking and encouraging me to take on challenges they knew I could do—and even when I resisted, they never gave up on me.
I gained my confidence from those challenges and going outside my comfort zone. I was (and still am) able to do this because of a great support team—family, friends, teachers, counselors—who help me through the rough spots and believe in me, even during those times when I don’t believe in myself.
I let go of being typical.
I felt inner-pressure to be ‘typical’ and set myself up for disappointment when I couldn’t live up to society’s norms. When I let go of those expectations, my attitude turned positive and my life changed dramatically. I discovered something I was really good at and a path towards independence and future! I’m not a technical genius nor an athlete, but when I act, people take notice and pay attention. I cannot improvise in life but I am masterful on stage or in a sound booth. I’ve done Shakespeare and children’s theater. Today, I am a member of the actors union and I’ve done character voices on videogames, apps, toys…even a major theme park.
Being autistic hasn’t stopped me from achieving and pursuing my dreams. It won’t stop you either.
Jonathan will be speaking at the 2016 Autism Society Convention in New Orleans. His presentation, “How I Found my Voice(s): My Personal Autism Journey Towards Independence and a Career in Voice Over” will be on Friday July 15 at 3:00 PM in Galerie 5, New Orleans Marriott. We’d love to meet you so let us know if you’ll be there in the comments!