Tom Iland was diagnosed with autism at age 13. Life has not been easy, and he has worked hard to meet many of his goals, including driving, living on his own, graduating from college and having a girlfriend. In his first book he shares insights and things he’s learned through experience to help other young people create the lives they want for themselves, as he has done.
Tom’s co-author is also his mom, autism specialist Emily Iland, M.A. She’s an award-winning author, advocate, film-maker, researcher and leader. She created BE SAFE The Movie, using video modeling to show young people how to interact safely with the police. Emily is also the author of Drawing A Blank: Improving Comprehension for Readers on the Autism Spectrum, a best-selling educational book.
Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery is the co-authors’ first volume on the subject of transition. In volume two, they will be expanding on how to improve transition planning.
Tell us about Come to Life!
Tom: A few months after I left high school, I had a major revelation. Up to that point, I had been passive, waiting for life to come to me. One day, I realized that I had to come to life and create the life I wanted. I came up with a mantra that helped me drive my life forward: Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Be Yourself.
Many individuals with autism (and other conditions) don’t truly understand themselves or know how their disability affects them. Without understanding, they struggle to love and accept themselves. This emotional roadblock can get in the way of just about everything else. In Come to Life! I explain my mantra and how it can help other young people move forward in their lives.
Emily: The central theme of Come to Life! is the process of self-discovery. The book helps readers find answers to questions such as, “Who am I?” “What do I want?” “What am I good at?” and “What are some areas I can improve?” We consider Come to Life! a prequel to transition planning. Once readers discover their answers, they can integrate their hopes, dreams and goals into their future plans, rather than living a life that someone else has planned for them.
What inspired you to write it?
Tom: Many people ask me about my secrets to success. I was fortunate during my school years I had the chance to discover important things about myself and figure out what I wanted in life. I had lots of opportunities to explore options, grow and evolve. Then my IEP team worked with me to create a really good transition plan. The activities in Come to Life! can help young people transform into self-advocates and become their best selves.
Emily: As a mom, an educator and an advocate, I’m very familiar with the struggles families face in the transition from school to adult life. You hear lots of stories about young people with nothing to do and nowhere to go once the school bus stops coming. New statistics show that the great majority of youth with disabilities, particularly those with autism, are not working, not going to school, not socially connected, not moving out of the family home, and not happy with their adult life.
To us, it is clear that if we want to change those outcomes, we have to change what all of us are doing in the transition process. When we thought about why Tom was able to achieve so many of his goals, we realized that his process of self-discovery was the key.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
Tom: Come to Life! has two ideal audiences. The first is youth and adults, with or without disabilities, who are looking for inspiration and guidance. I speak directly to my peers in Come to Life! to help them drive their lives forward and start living a better life for themselves.
Emily: Come to Life! is also written for allies, the caring adults who are helping one or more young people find their way in the world. Allies may be parents, teachers, therapists or even mental health professionals. The activities and resources create opportunities for allies and youth to have meaningful conversations and explore important ideas together. The charts make it easy to organize and share the discoveries with others, including special education teams or adult service providers.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
Tom: Life is too short to wait for life to come to you…it is up to YOU to come to life! Get up, get out there and start making things happen for yourself. Even if it is scary or difficult at first, keep going at it and you will begin to see your life transform for the better
Emily: We hope that young people and their allies will enjoy exploring the book together. And if someone is already an adult but never had the chance to really discover themselves, it is never too late! It is also very important that allies feel free to adapt the activities in the book to help people of all verbal abilities actively engage in the process of self-discovery and have their voices heard (literally or figuratively!).
Do you have a proud moment or inspirational story to share?
Tom: I just presented a session on Come to Life! at the Texas State Autism Conference in San Antonio. A young man with autism name Colton attended my session, and it was the first time he had ever been to a conference. Afterwards, Colton was super excited, and said, “Tom had a lot of useful advice that I’m going to use to help me succeed in my life. I think this is going to help me become a great person!”
Emily: Come to Life! is about helping young people, disability or not, create the lives they want for themselves. Tom is a great guide to self-discovery because he is living through the process. First he realized his dream of becoming an accountant, and learned a lot along the way! Now he’s realizing his dream of helping others by becoming a published author and public speaker. Audiences are telling us that his message is clear and very inspirational. As his mom, it was wonderful to see the pure joy on his face as he opened the box and saw Come to Life! for the first time. This is an excellent beginning to a wonderful future. What more could a mom want?
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
Tom: Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Be Yourself. I hope people can see that they have it within themselves create a good life.
Emily: Yes, we hope that Come to Life! will help readers make the transition process more meaningful and effective, and improve quality of life for many, many people!
Is there anything else we should mention?
Tom: I love giving conference keynote addresses to share the positive messages of Come to Life! I also give a “guided tour” of the book, exploring the topics chapter by chapter. Please get in touch with me at www.thomasiland.com if you want to know more about my presentations.
Emily: Thank you for helping us share the news about Come to Life! We appreciate people sharing the link to this interview to get the word out and reach people who can really benefit from this book!
Visit the following for more information:
- ThomasIland.com (purchase the book here)
- Facebook Pages: Thomas Iland and Be Safe the Movie
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