Autism Interview #185: Tejas Rao Sankar on Learning to Spell, Traveling, and the Autistic Community

Tejas Rao Sankar is a nonspeaking autistic who spells to communicate. Tejas is a passionate traveler who loves to dance and spend time with his friends. He blogs with Neuroclastic to contribute to our emerging understanding of autistics, by autistics. Tejas loves to read with The BookWallis – A social media book group. He also loves creating memes for social media with I-ASC’s Spellers & Allies, a network which works to bring advocacy to spellers’ causes. He has been a panelist presenter at conferences such as Innovations in Education. Tejas has been recognized by Congressman Max Rose and other legislators for the advocacy work he does.

Tejas, with his autistic friends, is a co-founder of CrimsonRise, a neurodiverse community. You can find him on social media – Facebook and Instagram. This week Tejas shared how his life has changed since he learned how to spell to communicate. He also shared his love of traveling and engaging with other autistic people.

What was life like before you could spell to communicate? How is it different now?

Being able to communicate totally changed everything for me. Laughable to think that questions about my intelligence were very typical. Work was monotony to me. Working on my neurology took effort and it became pointless to do the same things over and over again. Working on something useless made me feel worthless. I wasn’t aware of my use in this world. My feelings were never understood. I was an object of pity.

Pity isn’t a useful emotion. Empathy is. Love to feel empathy for neurotypicals who don’t experience the world like I do. Many of them aren’t experiencing the intense, lavish beauty of the world every day. It is inaccessible to neurotypicals. You can’t feel and see music like I do! Colors surround me when I listen to music. The movements in the music take on colors, intensifying with reaches in the notes. I am intensely autistic and it is only music that can get me to work on myself and on my life. Without music I cannot fuel myself.

Music is only one example. How do I throw you into gorgeous worlds that enthrall me? It is having the wiring that allows us to sense the world around us differently. Galls me to experience beauty and not share it with you. Let me work on this sharing. Let me show you one moment.

I am happy to see the sun today. It is momentous today. It is better than tomorrow’s and yesterday’s. Because it is only the sun that I see. Not the sky or the good-hearted people below. Today it is only for me, the sun. Today it is good to let the sun hold me. Quietly the sun takes over. My brain is entranced by the sun. It bleeds every thought out of my brain. I am the sun.

There are too many worlds to get through, that was one moment in our lives! It is not possible to get you there. Only autistics have access. Try to get more autistics to tell you about their worlds.

My life is troubled by the fact that autistics are asked to lead as neurotypical lives as possible, rather than lives true to their autistic selves. After I started spelling to communicate, there was even more pressure on me to be as neurotypical as possible. In its kindness in recognizing me as thinking and intelligent, the world failed to accept the way my body regulates itself. This autistic way of regulation, in our world, implies a lack of intelligence. This way of assessing intelligence needs to end now.

What’s the best thing about traveling?

Travel before I was communicating was my only escape from monotony. Now travel is a pleasure, to get a break, explore a new place – for all the usual reasons.

Where are you most excited to travel and why?

India travel is the most exciting. I get to go everywhere, try street foods, explore markets, meet with family. Get to see my grandfather whom I adore. He stopped traveling to see me, so now I have to go see him.

What’s the most difficult thing about traveling?

Travel and anxiety aren’t a great combination. Feeling out of control in the very last place you want to lose it makes the work of travel very hard. This is the reason we try to stay in one place. This is lost autistic opportunity. Lost opportunity gets autistics fearful of lowering their place in the world. The tally of lost opportunities is high. Work autistics put into getting to places, is too high. To travel is to be visible. Being visible is to reach our authentic autistic selves.

You’ve written that one of the best things about being autistics is the love of working with other autistic people. When do you do this and what’s that like?

It is autistics’ best haven to be in the company of their friends! Having lots of conversations gets us going. I have the best autistic friends. I am surrounded by autistic friends in my community. I co-founded an organization, with my autistic friends, an organization that builds fellowships amongst autistics.

The way the world taught us, led us to question our use to society. Giving each other the trust and support we lacked, taught us that autistics get autistics. The way we work is to be there for each other. I question my friends and they play the questions back to me. Autistics try to get words to explain this to others. And together we get ready to take on the world. It is how we wordsmith our future.

To everyone else it is not very clear that we need to let autistics lead the way forward for autistics. The best feeling in the world is to be placed in the company of your own kind, minds that are plausibly good at getting your point of view. Others have good intentions but lack neurological access, I have the best autistic friends. I have a wonderful life.

Is there anything else you would like to say to readers? A mix of neurotypicals, autistics, caregivers, teachers and self-advocates.

Let’s try to understand the world autistics live in. Faulting our neurology isn’t how to do this.

Go to the source and ask them! Go to the autistic and learn to write their stories with them. Be an ally, go to an autistic and work with them, not for them. Get to know an autistic nonspeaker.

Touch their minds. They are beings like you with a full measure of thought, ideas and needs playing in their soul. Souls who long to be less work for their loved ones. Souls who question their place in society.

Spread the word. Share this post!

12 Comments

  1. Ramya

    Reply

    Dear Tejas, you are a poet! Thank you for the lovely expressive way you share your world.

  2. Reply

    Thank you for giving us a whole new perspective, your perspective, which is brilliant, unique and candid. #respect. So much to learn from you. May we all be mature enough to embrace all sensitivities that you so lovingly open our minds and hearts to. Thank you dear Tejas.

  3. Sapna Gupta

    Reply

    Tejas so proud of you!! What a great article and good to know your thoughts thru your article!!

  4. Vishakha Bharadwaj

    Reply

    Your words are healing, pure and powerful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Suchitra

    Reply

    Hey Tejas!
    I’m absolutely stunned by your descriptions. Thank You for giving me a glimpse into the way you see the world. I marvel at your maturity to handle whatever neurotypicals may say/do, and recognize the intentions behind it.

    You’re a gifted poet too. Next time I see the sunrise, your words will stay with me. And yes, you’re right. You see and experience it and so many other things most fully- how amazing is that.

    I hope we can meet someday soon! Will make it happen as your Mom and I are old friends.

    Best wishes always!

  6. Namrata Sharma

    Reply

    Tejas you have expressed yourself so well. You have opened your world to us. Thank you for inviting us in.

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