Richland resident Lydia Wayman is a young woman on a mission.
That mission is to educate, inform and expand our understanding of what it really is like to live with autism. Her unique qualifications? She is autistic and deals with it on a daily basis.
Wayman has another mission as well: to raise enough money to bring her service dog home when it completes its training. The dog has about a year of training to go, and Wayman is confident she can raise enough money through the sales of her books to be able to acquire it.
When you meet this remarkable woman, you have no doubt she'll succeed in her goals.
Wayman, 23, who was raised in Shaler, writes about the challenges of trying to live an independent life as an autistic adult on her blog, Autistic Speaks.
It's a fascinating look into the anxious and often chaotic world of someone on the autism spectrum. It should be a must-read for parents of autistic children, because it is a window into what a struggle living with autism can be.
As the blog's popularity grew, parents inundated Wayman with emails asking her questions about how to deal with their children's autism. Wayman patiently answered all queries and was told so often that she should write a book that she finally did so.
Interview with Autism was self-published through lulu.com and is available at Amazon.com. Her second book, Living in Technicolor: An Autistic's Thoughts on Raising a Child with Autism will be available at lulu.com in September.
"I wrote the first book because I was told so often by parents who asked me questions that I should write a book," says Wayman. "That first book was a collection of the most common questions I was asked by parents. The second book was my desire to write again because I saw a void in books about people with autism. I felt there needed to be books by people with autism."
Although she has never taken a writing class Wayman majored in education at Grove City College. Her goals include writing more books -- she's currently at work on a children's book about autism -- and consulting, but for money instead of just out of kindness.
"I think my insight as a person living with autism can help parents, teachers and clinicians better understand the children they're working with," says Wayman.
And, of course, there's her dog.
This animal lover's face softens when she talks about how much she's looking forward to the day she can bring the dog home. Wayman explains that, while people with autism can have trouble showing emotions toward people, those bottled-up feelings can be more easily expressed through interactions with animals, which tend to be much less complex.
Wayman shares her small apartment with her adored cat, Elsie. Elsie provides Wayman with love and companionship, but the dog will be able to help Wayman in more concrete ways, such as sensing when her medication levels are low. Wayman is a Type 1 diabetic, so it's crucial for her to stay on top of her various medications.
The dog also will be able to help Wayman cross the street safely and help ease her anxieties.
Wayman talks frequently about love and how difficult it can be for an autistic to express love even though she makes it clear that she loves very deeply. She says the most intense, and one of the most common questions she gets from parents is, "How do I know my child loves me?"
Below, excerpted from her latest book, is Wayman's answer.
It has often been said that people with autism do not feel the full range of emotions that “typical” people feel. I would venture to say, however, that no emotion is entirely off-limits for a person with autism. In some instances, though I’m sure it’s hard to discern which, I think that I actually feel more deeply and fully than many people do, such as with respect to animals. But, because I process and express emotions differently from others, people think that I’m not feeling anything at all.
People with autism do feel love. Oh, we might not feel or express it in the ways you’re used to, in hugs and kisses and words, but we do feel it. Your child might feel it in the familiarity of a bedtime story or in the comfort of the bath you give him. He might feel it in the deep pressure you give when you put on his weighted blanket. Some children might feel it when you engage in their favorite scripts with them. Your child knows you love him.
But what of his love for you? Again, it may be atypical, but it’s there, in its own unique way. It’s there when he holds it together in school all day just to come home and melt down; this means that he’s most comfortable around you. It’s there when he engages you in talking about Thomas the Tank Engine or dinosaurs, (or with my family, cats) because he wants you to share in the joy of his favorite subject.
I express my love for my mom when I poke the tip of her index finger with the tip of mine; since hugs and kisses completely overwhelm me, I’ve devised my own way of expressing affection to my mom. It’s there when I say “hi” to my mom for the third or fourth time in the hour she’s been at my place. I’m just so happy to see her, but I can’t get anything else to come out, so I pack a thousand thoughts and I love yous behind that “hi” and say it yet again.
It’s there, if you know where to look.