Did you know April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day? In honor of the occasion, disABILITY Awareness speaker Zak Kauffeld shares his story about his experience living with Autism and as a speaker for JMF.

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now known as Autism, Level1). The only people who knew about this diagnosis were my family, teachers, and a few choice friends. I kept this information to myself and didn’t want to disclose this information to anyone because I was afraid I’d be judged for it. Later my family and I moved back to the US from Canada to Westfield, Indiana where I attended a Catholic school known as Saint Maria Goretti (SMG). I felt like a fish out of water there and it took me a long time before I finally was settled there.

Fairly early in the school year, my teacher gave us a paper to write about Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy and why I liked being in a Catholic school. Three papers would be selected to be read by the writer on a local radio broadcast. The original draft of my paper was awful and rushed with no passion in it whatsoever. I have a fond memory of staying up past midnight on the day before the assignment was due (I don’t recommend this) pouring my soul into that paper. I turned it from a sloppily put together paper to a love letter from the heart. I mentioned some of the difficulties I had with adjusting to SMG and some of the difficulties living with Autism. I submitted the assignment and a few months later completely forgot about it.

A month or two later, my teacher pulled me and two girls aside from the rest of the class. She announced that we were the winners and we were going on the radio to read our papers. She asked if we would mind if she read our papers to the class. I was rather flustered but said yes without thinking. I later started to remember what my paper was about and remembered that in that paper I mentioned that I have Autism. I didn’t want anyone to know about my disability, and I was terrified of what everyone would think of me. After my teacher read my speech, something miraculous happened…..nothing! No one said anything to me about it. And in that moment, I realized that no one cared about my Autism but instead cared about me. Since then, I’ve been more public about my diagnosis, sometimes casually bringing it up in conversation. When my old principal invited me to return to St. Maria Goretti and give a presentation about Autism, at first I didn’t want to do it. Then I remembered my experience with my paper in 8th grade. Autism is a part of me and I can’t deny it. It would be like lying about my height.

This was my first experience giving a talk to people about Autism and I loved it! Joseph Maley Foundation, you’ve got me hooked. I assure you that you haven’t seen the last of me!

Post written by: Zak Kauffeld, disABILITY Awareness Speaker

Watch Zak’s full speaking engagement by clicking here.