Autism through Kelly’s eyes
When most people think about autism, they think about the challenges and obstacles that those with autism work tirelessly to overcome. But for 11-year-old Kelly Willuweit, focusing on the positive aspects of her autism helps put things into perspective.
Working with occupational therapist Kristin Harkensee, at the Pediatric Developmental Center at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Kelly is beginning to think about the things her autism helps her do better than most people—like remembering birthdays.
“Of course autism poses a lot of challenges,” Harkensee says. “But one of my goals with Kelly this year is to help her look at her autism in a different way.”
Earlier this year, Harkensee saw a Facebook post about a 10-year-old boy named Colin who has a condition similar to autism that causes him to have difficulty with social skills. According to the post by Colin’s mom, Colin told her he didn’t want a birthday party because he didn’t have any friends. Harkensee shared this story with Kelly and asked what she thought they should do.
Right away, Kelly wanted to send him a birthday card, Harkensee says. Harkensee suggested they include some things that are good about autism in the card.
“I pulled out three pieces of paper—one for Kelly, one for her mom, Noreen, and one for me—and we began brainstorming the positive things about Kelly’s autism together,” she says. “We talked through the things each of us wrote down, and then Noreen and I stepped away and let Kelly work on her card to Colin by herself.”
When they returned, Kelly had written this note to Colin on the inside of his birthday card: “Hi Colin, I’m Kelly, my autism is that I have a good memory, I remember dates and people’s birthdays. I started to sing before I started to talk, I could see the world in pictures.”
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