How I've Faced my Challenges
By Ben Bluemond | Published on February 25, 2021 | 10 Minute Read
Hi, I’m Ben and I am 22 years old with Autism from the Chicago Metropolitan area. A little about me, I am an athlete and competitive runner that currently competes in local road races throughout the Midwest region. I also am an intern with a program called Project Search that gives young adults with Autism job training at local hospitals. I’m mid-way through my internship at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital learning job skills in different departments. I’m learning things like how to work with customers, cleaning equipment, how to communicate with co-workers and managers, taking directions, etc. I also work part-time at a local Planet Fitness through this program. I live at home with my parents, sister and many pets!
I recently started an Instagram account called @bengettingaround. I wanted to use this account to inspire kids and young adults on how to do adulting with Autism, get them excited about exercise and fitness, as well as showcase my running career. I was really surprised at how fast my followers have grown. In less than two months I’m close already to 600 followers! I hope to continue to grow it fast and want to explore new and interesting content for my followers. I have a new series on Adulting with Autism coming out over the next couple of months on my Instagram account so I can talk about what basic things are like with people with Autism such as cooking, jobs, transportation, sports, socializing, and more.
I realized I first had Autism in 8th grade when I was getting ready to go into high school. My parents tell me I was diagnosed with a developmental disability at age 3 and then diagnosed with Autism at age 5. It took me a while to learn to do basic things that required fine motor skills. For example, I wasn’t able to tie my own shoes until I was around 15 years old. My parents got me special shoes that didn’t need laces to use. As I got older, my motor skills improved with a lot of therapy and focus. I also had a lot of little anxieties growing up that would throw me off such as dealing with bad weather and storms, being around the stove, insects in the house, etc. I want kids to know that these are normal type things and that you can grow out of them the older you get.
After high school I joined a program called SAIL (Students Attaining Independent Living) which was a great program to help me learn more of everyday things such as handling money, making plans, cooking, etc. It also took me a few years to learn how to drive safely, I was able to get my driver's license when I was around 19 years old and now am able to drive locally to my internship and work. It’s important for people growing up with Autism to understand that it may take them some time to get to certain things they want so they have to stay patient and committed. I didn’t want to rely on other people to get me around town so I was very focused on getting my own license, no matter how long it was going to take.
"It’s important for people growing up with Autism to understand that it may take them some time to get to certain things they want so they have to stay patient and committed"
The main things I have to deal as a result of having Autism is processing information and things differently than the average person. For example, it took me a while to understand things like sarcasm when people were talking to me. I’m also still learning how to communicate with people and staying on topic when talking. I’m working hard on these things and getting better all the time. I appreciate what the people at SAIL and Project Search have helped me with. What I want people to know about having Autism is having Autism does not mean you won’t be successful and that you can do well at things you put your mind to. I also want people to understand that there is nothing wrong with having Autism because I believe that having Autism is a special ability.
Running and exercise has helped me cope with Autism more than anything. I had a wonderful high school experience and felt very included. One of the things that helped me a lot was being in track and field. My parents signed me up originally as a way to meet some new friends and get some exercise. I fell in love with the sport right away. I earned the “Ironman Award” my senior year which I’m proud of as it is a dedication award that goes to the athletes who made it to every single practice and every single track meet in a year. I started off running sprints but ultimately was more interested in distance events. I almost broke the sub-5 minute mile barrier in high school with a time of 5:07 and to this day I am still working on getting a sub-5 personal record as a goal for myself which I know I will accomplish.
For what is in store for me in the future I want to build a career that is focused on helping people with disabilities get involved with exercise and fitness because it made such a huge difference in my life. Whether it’s working at a park district, fitness center, disability center, or helping at a hospital or therapy clinic that would be great. I also am committed to growing my running career. I have plans soon to join the Special Olympics and look forward to competing in that and meeting all kinds of new people and friends. I also want to expand my running to compete in distance events worldwide. I still have so much to accomplish in the sport. I have a great family and coach that are helping me accomplish my goals. I also appreciate the support I get from my Instagram followers and want to continue to grow it and roll out new things to engage with them, inspire and make friends.
I enjoy my life and look forward to the future. I know I will have challenges in the future to face as I continue to grow older but I feel good that I can face them. Come join me @bengettingaround so we can stay in touch!
About the Author
My name is Ben. I'm 22 years old and am a runner, advocate and adulting with autism. I've learned to accept who I am and don't let my disability hold me back. Running and fitness changed my life and gave me confidence and I hope to express that to other kids and young adults who are learning to cope with autism.