Jeff was born on March 27, 1989 in Providence, RI and has lived his entire life in Seekonk, MA. He was diagnosed with Autism in 1990, and ever since then, he has achieved multiple successes in his life in areas of education, long-term employment, independent living, and speaking/panel engagements. This week Jeff shared some of his experiences as a self advocate.
*Disclaimer from Jeff: I am not a medical professional. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care provider.
Your website says that you first became aware of your autism diagnosis when someone came to your home to interview you about it. What was that like? Was it explained as something positive, negative, or neutral?
In October 1998, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee came to my house and interviewed me as a subject for a story that they were doing on autism. Up until that time, I didn’t even know I was on the autism spectrum, but I knew that I was different than my peers and fellow classmates at school.
What are some ways you’ve been misunderstood by others?
For one thing, I tend to think differently than most people, particularly on social media. Sometimes when I am talking to someone, they will see things differently about me than what I think they are supposed to. It’s also a two-way street on my end because I tend to not understand certain social boundaries of others. It’s something that I have been working on and will continue to work on going forward.
How have you/do you self-advocate in the workplace?
Well, one of the things I do is give workplace-related presentations on this issue. In fact, my keynote presentation is called “The Man Behind the Curtain” which talks about not only growing up neurodiverse, but also how I managed to find and hold onto a job that allows me to do what I do as an advocate as well as to live a well balanced life.
What do you wish more neurotypical people understood about autism?
I wish that neurotypicals understand that we neurodiverse individuals want to be accepted and included for who we are as people. The problem I believe with neurotypical society is that they don’t always share our views of the world around us, and that is a shame.
What do you think is crucial to helping raise kids with positive views about autism and their Autistic identity?
I would have to say strong family support as well as strong educational support. When I was in the Seekonk Public School system from 1994-2007, I had a very strong support system that gave me the necessary accommodations and allowed me to grow and thrive as a student. As a result, upon my graduation in 2007, I became the first neurodiverse student in the town of Seekonk to have completed an entire education without coming from other towns or school districts.
What other Autistic self-advocates do you support/admire/recommend?
There are plenty of self-advocates to choose from in the field, but if you want my recommendation, I would probably look at Mark Fleming, a friend and colleague of mine from Tampa, FL who owns and operates a gym called Equally Fit which caters towards neurodiverse and disabled individuals to help them live a healthy lifestyle. I also work closely with David Sharif, another self-advocate and public speaker based in New York City that does a lot of travel. We are both moderators for the Global Autism Project’s Mighty Networks Platform called “Autism Knows No Borders.” Finally, there is also Michelle Vinokurov, a paraprofessional on the autism spectrum formerly of New Jersey that is now living in Sarasota, FL, whom I also work closely with in advocating for special education students. We actually created an IEP presentation that we look to present virtually in May 2022. If you want to follow her on social media, Michelle’s user name is ‘Exceptional Shell.’
Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask?
In addition to my website, I am also a contributor to the book “This is Autism” by Jessica Leichtweisz and Aidan Allman-Cooper that is available on Amazon.com for $19.97 along with Michelle Vinokurov, whom I discussed in the previous question. If you know of anyone who would like me, Michelle, or anyone who contributed to the book to sign a copy at a future in-person event, please let one of us know, and we would all be happy to sign their copy.