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My name is Ariel Coburn and I am a self-advocate. I have been drawing for as long as I have been able to hold a pencil. In October 2018, at a Halloween Party for my social group, Mrs. Deborah Hammer, the facilitator, informed me that her father needed an illustrator for a children’s book he wrote. I gave it some thought, sketched out samples of the titular character, and with her dad’s approval, I continued on with the project. Three months later, the illustrations were finished and when I least expected it, I got the word that the book had been published June 2020, a year and a half since I finished illustrating what would be “Something to Crow About”.

Mrs. Hammer has known me since I was in first grade and attended my IEP meetings when I was in grade school. We got back in touch my junior year of high school when I expressed interest in Cool Aspies, a social group for young adults on the Autism Spectrum. I found out about the group as far back as eighth grade from one of my closest friends whose siblings both were on the spectrum. Their older sibling was part of Cool Aspies and coincidentally, I met them the summer before sixth grade in a social skills group for middle-school aged kids. Joining Cool Aspies was one of the greatest decisions I made and without it, I wouldn’t have met my closest friends or found as many opportunities to succeed.

By far, Mrs. Hammer is the best teacher, mentor, and colleague I have had and has always seen my potential beyond my diagnosis. Many people on the spectrum, like myself, may have misconceptions about our success and talents, but with proper support from adults to self-advocate, kids with Autism are just as likely, if not more, to succeed. Through my ventures in self-advocating, I have emphasized the importance of self-determination. If someone says you can’t do something, don’t listen to them because they are misinformed about neurological conditions. As in, if someone says you can’t get a job because you’re autistic, they’re wrong.  You can motivate yourself to get a job not to please anyone but yourself.

Autism does not make me any less, but different. I may see and do things differently, but it doesn’t make me less of a person. There may be some areas that I may not be so good in, like sports, but my artistic interests and talent compensate for such. Some people are better at sports, and others, art. If everyone played sports, then the world would be boring. Not to mention, you need artists to design logos for teams and architects for the courts and playing fields. Artists are just as important as athletes, if not more.

Autism takes a monochrome world and adds color!

Ariel Coburn is a Special Education major at George Mason University and self-advocate. She has spoken at FutureQuest in October 2019 and served as a keynote speaker for the Communities of Leaders in Autism (COLA) in June 2019. She works as an Extended Day Aide in Arlington Public Schools and has since November 2016. Her hobbies are beading, drawing, and writing stories.