My name is Joely Colmer, I am 25 and I am a young female Autism Activist, Author and Motivational Speaker, with a very special gift...
I have a disability called Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's Syndrome is a gift that hinders me with many hidden hardships but also walks hand in hand with the very things I love most about myself. My gift makes me honest and incapable of lying, caring, passionate, motivated, loyal and clever. But most of all, Asperger's has allowed me to achieve my dreams of helping others.
Asperger's, and a wonderful support network, has allowed me to achieve some incredible things within myself, and most importantly, within my community too. I love to help support others on the Autistic Spectrum like myself, and help professionals, parents or carers gain an understanding of such a life enriching (no matter how difficult) disability. This is why I am a dedicated volunteer and as a result, I have won awards including: YMCA National Volunteer of the Year 2013, and most recently recognition from the Houses of Commons and Prime Minister David Cameron with a National "Point of Light" Award. Please see the pages “Autism Activism” and “Inspire to Volunteer” - "My Awards and Volunteering" to find out more.
I wish to enlighten anyone on the Autistic Spectrum, Autistic professionals, or parents who want to learn more or just need inspiration. I wish to inspire everyone to think differently and challenge their perspective, of what Asperger's truly is.
I live in the beautiful sea side town of Bournemouth, England. I was diagnosed as on the Autistic Spectrum when I was 2 years old, and could not speak until I was 6 years old, I used be partially deaf and I suffered with a variety of aches and pains. As a child I was affectionately known as a whirl wind (That’s ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for you), because my energy and frantic behaviour knew no limits; I used to run from place to place and cause utter chaos everywhere I went. I would never do this to be naughty, I was just so interested in my surroundings and wanted to explore and learn of my own accord all the time. You see, my whirl wind behaviour had patterns, it may have seemed erratic or pointless to anyone else, but to me, it was allowing me to really learn the processes and make sense of the world around me.
The truth is, my disability affects every second of my life in a variety of hidden ways, and it always will. My disabilities lead to a very difficult and lonely childhood as I was unable to communicate or understand the people around me. Even now, simple thought processes make my head physically hurt, giving me seizures; for example I find it stressful to load a dishwasher as my brain can’t comprehend how I can solve such a basic problem.
When I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at 13, it was such a huge relief and I finally felt able to accept my difficulties as I could now learn to understand myself. I learnt that Asperger's is on the higher end of the Autistic Spectrum, and can affect different people in different ways. I see Asperger's as a rare gift, an ability to retain lots of factual information (especially my specialist topics Ancient history and the Autistic Spectrum). While being able to retain certain information is amazing and useful, the majority of the time, it is exhausting. My head is constantly buzzing with the tiniest details around me, which results in an information overload. Multiple times a day this information overload will manifest itself in severe chronic pain, fatigue and seizures. For example, yesterday I was attempting to make my bed. After 35 minutes of struggling, I was still nowhere near to completion and was too overloaded with information and exhausted to continue. It took me hours of resting to recover from this ordeal, as my brain was unable to co-ordinate and problem solve. I find even the ‘simplest’ of thought process difficult, this ranges from recognizing the need for a coat when it is raining, how to make a phone call and the minefield of small talk. I was able to learn how and why this affected me, and the best way to deal with difficulties. Even at 23, I still can’t tie my laces and make an impromptu trip to the local shop.
School was a nightmare that I could not wake up from; it was always too noisy and unforgiving for those with highly alert senses like mine, and that was just the surroundings! The teachers and my peers filled my head with extreme confusion; even the nice ones were too complex to understand; I often hid in the toilets from soul destructing bullies, and mate crime, and to give myself some peace from the hectic world around me.
My life at mainstream secondary school was very challenging academically too; so I was fortunate to have such amazing support from my Special Educational Needs Coordinator. I was able to have time out from lessons and I had support workers, prompters, and understanding staff to help with my constant worries, overloads, confusion and dilemmas. I am blessed with the most understanding and caring family. They became heavily involved in my education and getting me the support I needed. My brother gave me extra tuition in Math's which took me from an F to a B grade. As well as helping me on a daily basis (getting me to and from school and helping with homework), my parents were always very proud of my achievements. They never made me feel like a failure, because they knew I was always putting 100% in. My sister organized my books, timetable and gave me tips on how to survive secondary school.
Most importantly, my family showed me the positive side to my disability and how it made me a good, honest and caring person. They enabled me to realize what my gifts were and how I could proudly express this to the world. I love my disability for what it has allowed me to achieve within my community and for myself.
When I was 18 I was referred to a local Youth Group called "The Chatterboxes" (please see "Inspire" - "My Awards and What I do" for more information). This voluntary group, and everything it lead to, completely changed my life around. I arrived at my first Chatterbox session with a nervous smile, my usual friendly nature and a notebook to jot down ideas. I walked out with new friends, a safe sanctuary, motivation, hope and a pages of ideas! I instantly knew exactly what I was going to do with my life- help others.
As a member I helped create the magazine, but quickly my confidence grew and I was soon supporting other members as a Peer Mentor. I would inspire them to express their hidden gifts and enable them to escape their shells. Within weeks, I was helping to design Chatterbox events. I helped create Autism Awareness Workshops in schools, for support workers and students with ASD and after a few months I became a public speaker- which is a big passion of mine. The Chatterboxes was the umbrella for all of my much adored voluntary projects, and gave my motivation and passion the outlet I desperately needed to achieve my dreams!
Wish to learn more about me, and my disability, and challenge what you thought you understood about Autism?