In helping others, we help our own selves

About CY:
I am 25 years old and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of 15. I am currently working as a project assistant at a sheltered workshop and is responsible to train people with disabilities to produce goods. Some hobbies I enjoy are reading, cycling, volunteering and hiking. I have produced and hosted a RTHK radio show called “A Child? A Guy!” to help spread ASD awareness and support. My wish is to bring positive changes in the society.

People are gregarious by necessity, especially in the modern world today, and social interaction skills are essential for the daily functions of individuals. However, people with ASD face great difficulties in developing these essential social skills and it becomes very challenging for us to integrate into the society. Thus, individuals with ASD are prone to be socially isolated.

A friend of mine with ASD, simply due to the fact that the store assistant that he was familiar with was not present at that moment, he felt insecure and did not dare to enter the store to purchase an eraser; a friend of mine who is passionate in teaching, he failed to resolve the conflicts among his colleagues and had to quit his dream job due to the social challenges he faced; some people with ASD are very sensitive to sensory information thus have to change their living routines and are not able to live with flexibility.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. It is not hard to imagine how many repeated failures and negative emotions people with ASD experience every day. What is worse, some may turn to self-harm to relieve these frustrations.

Take myself as an example, I have very low confidence and always have this thought that I am not as bright as others. My co-workers think that I am too impulsive. I always create conflicts with others; I get offended from other’s jokes, always thought they are mocking me. I am also insensitive to gossip and rumors that circle around.

Flashback to my secondary school life, I was bullied all the time. I got flicked with rubber bands and felt like I was a “toy” to others. I gradually developed fear of people since then. High school was the hardest time of my life – I did not feel accepted and was very confused about my self-identity. Worse still, the surge of cyberbullying made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Not to mention my love life – I had difficulty expressing my feelings appropriately, driving people away from me. My self confidence was so low that I thought people will criticize me for having affection for someone.

After that, I studied a diploma program where I encountered people with different backgrounds. Sadly, the shadow of being bullied did not fade and I was still very scared of being isolated by my new circle. The fear was so intense that when I had a new haircut I was so afraid I would be teased by my classmates and I kept pulling my hair to release the anxiety. Due to my lack of understanding in social rules, it was impossible for me to fit in.

The accumulated incidents during my school life made me come to a realization that changing a new social circle was not effective in rebuilding a new image of myself. I was determined to reestablish my self-identity through participating in community service and I have learnt about The Spastic Children’s Association of Hong Kong (SAHK) by chance.

I have allied with other high-functioning ASD individuals and formed a mutual-aid self-help group with the assistance of the organization. We meet regularly and are involved in different activities such as publishing online articles, hosting radio shows and volunteering. For example, we have organized a workshop to help improve learning and behavior of children with special educational needs. Also, we were able to share our experiences with other self-help groups organised by people with other disabilities.

Everyone in this small yet supportive group faces similar difficulties and problems. We help ourselves through sharing and discussing each other’s challenges, successes and failures. We were able to grow together during this process. I feel more confident and empowered to face the challenges ahead.

I also want to take this opportunity to let people with ASD to know that you are never alone. We are all going through what you are experiencing even though it seems like people around you don’t understand what you are going through. You have to stay strong to cope with all the ups and downs in life.

If your family members, friends or colleagues are struggling with ASD, try to understand from their perspective. Please understand that they have great difficulties in processing all the social cues and situations they encountered. They are not slow or stubborn. Explain the situation to them in a simpler and direct way to facilitate your communication. Also, I encourage you to explore our strengths and ability. Many people with ASD are able to work successfully, live independently and integrate themselves into the society. We strongly believe that we can change the world by strengthening our mutual aid networks and building an inclusive society.

To help individuals with ASD integrate into the society, everyone, including those without ASD, need to work hand in hand to achieve the best outcome.

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Thanks CY for sharing his experience and being interviewed by Beverly Chong (AP Lead Behavioral Therapist) and Kelvin Ho (AP Senior Behavioral Therapist)

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