Path to an Independent Life

Joseph Berry (Age 21; Dx age 11)

My name is Joseph Berry. When I was three years old I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. When I was eleven, I realized that something was different about me. I had social challenges and needed extra support in school.  I was fortunate to be on a series of strong IEPs from age 3 to 20. My education largely centered on applied behavioral analysis in an integrated classroom with an aide.

Although there was a great program in my school district, by 8th grade the social landscape and academic demand of the public school system had become too difficult for me to.   I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I was moved to a private program called Milestones for two years. They focused on social skills in a low stress setting. They gave me additional tools to help me manage preservation and negative thinking.

Socializing with my peers grew stressful again when I returned to the public school system in the 10th grade. I got teased and had some very difficult experiences. I decided I needed to listen to the people who were trying to help me do what’s right socially and academically. I focused on becoming a good student, partially to fit in better.  I learned that people with knowledge who are successful learners can be more interesting to others.

In my senior year, my family and I moved to California. My parents were concerned about the services that might be available in California.  Because I had grown so much academically and socially in my 10th and 11th grade years they felt that I would require less services. I had hopes that California would be a new start for me.  I was hopeful that people would accept me because I was stronger socially and people didn’t know what I was like before. I also thought that turning 18 came with autonomy and new found freedom.  It didn’t go as I expected. I wasn’t socially successful. I became depressed, stopped doing my work, and fought against my teachers and parents. The school district and doctors were unprepared, and some were unwilling, to help me through this difficult transition.  

I got through senior year but it was a large downward step from my 11th grade successes.  I started a post-senior year as a dual enrolled student in high school and college. The stress of the college environment combined with the mounting depression and anxiety resulted in me having a mental breakdown. My parents found that there were no good options in California that would rehabilitate me back to my capabilities.  My mom moved back to Massachusetts with me to get the help I needed.

In Massachusetts I got through the first half of the year and successfully completed a college course with a lot of parental support.  The next step was to try to see if I could manage 3 college classes with minimal support. This was the test to see if I could do the work.  I didn’t end up succeeding in those courses. I didn’t do the work needed.

After college didn’t work out for me my mom moved back to California.  My parents felt strongly that I should stay in Massachusetts for better services. I needed to find a job and a place to live. I was so scared that I would fail and have to live in a group home.  I was applying for jobs with little success and time wasn’t on my side.

My mom saw a conference advertised about autism in the workplace and signed us up.  One of the presenters was from Tegra, a surgical device factory. There were looking to hire autistic people! I applied and got an interview. I prepared for the interview by having a mock interviews. I went to my interview and was offered the job on the spot but it had a 3 month trial period.

My first several weeks at work were challenging.  I didn’t pay enough attention or work fast enough.  My mother would coach me each day before and after work on how to be a good employee.  I took notes, and wore earplugs, to avoid sensory overload from all the noise. I found the work challenging, confusing and sometimes and boring.  It was hard to stay focused. The HR department worked with me to provide accommodations for my Autism. They listened to my suggestions and things got a bit better.   I was motivated to succeed by my dread of group home life. I was able to take my parent’s council, work hard, and I got past the trial period and was hired.

I’ve been at Tegra for more than half a year now. I feel proud of this accomplishment. I get along well with my coworkers. My supervisors, Jesus, Jason, and Andrew are very nice. If they had not been so patient and understanding, I probably would not have this job.

In my early stages of living alone I had a hard time controlling spending. I struggled with loneliness living in my apartment alone. I also enjoyed the freedom of living under my own rules. I kept my apartment clean very well, and I did laundry, shopping and cooking very well. After a rough start I learned to control my finances but now I am spending very little. I’m even working on saving up for a car.  I now have a roommate. I work hard to be a good roommate. I clean up after myself, and mind my own business.

Moving out of my parents’ home taught me that with the right motivation I can accomplish big things. I will attempt an online course in preparation for another try at college. Right now I am 21. I feel that college is ahead of me.  I have high hopes for having a professional career. I’m grateful to all the people who have helped me to get to this place in my life where I can be talking to you about all these things. Thank you for listening.