Few see how hard people work to live with autism

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Por: Nicolas Lobatón González

Few see how hard people work to live with autism


Gretchen Leary holds a care package for children with autism on April 10, 2019 in Needham, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

While walking in Needham a few years ago, a neighbor said something to Gretchen Leary that she hears all too often: “You don’t seem like somebody with autism.”

“My brain is going, ‘Maintain eye contact, breathe, maintain eye contact, breathe,’” Gretchen recalled yesterday. “It’s so frustrating when people do that because I’m working really, really hard. Don’t take that away from me please.”

Gretchen was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 23. She’s made it her mission to raise awareness and support kids and adults with autism.

Tomorrow, Gretchen, now 33, plans to deliver 10 weighted lap pads to Needham’s Walker School. She’s also giving sensory care packages with items like teddy bears, protective earmuffs and squeezable stress balls to Boston Children’s Hospital as part of her recently launched Breathe Boston Autism Project.

The Rotary Club of Needham donated $1,000 worth of sensory friendly supplies to be given to the school and hospital through Gretchen’s care package project.

“We love this project,” said the Rotary Club’s Libby Pero. “It’s near and dear to my heart because my grandson is autistic and he’s 2 ½.”

The families at Boston Children’s Hospital appreciate Gretchen’s packages. “It’s very helpful and it’s wonderful to see her doing it,” said Kristin Coffey, a certified child-life specialist at the hospital’s Autism Spectrum Center.

Gretchen is working on expanding her project into a nonprofit, BostonCalm, to further support people with autism.

Over time, Gretchen has learned to mimic learned social behaviors. “When I go into a social situation, I ask a lot of the same exact questions and they are questions I’ve heard other people ask people,” she said. “I’d rather sit and talk about ‘Seinfeld’ all day but most people don’t want to hear about that.”

She forces herself to make eye contact with people, sometimes forgetting to breathe. Fluorescent lights give her painful headaches. Sirens feel like fingernails running down a chalkboard.

Growing up, she’d walk up to people at church and ask, “Can I hug you?” She’d chew pens to calm herself down as she sat on hard seats under the bright school classroom lights. She wishes she had the sensory items she’s now donating.

Now, she eases her anxiety in part by doing yoga at home. She’s self-published two children’s books about acceptance. She’s donated her care packages to other Hub hospitals and organizations and includes letters of support. The community has stepped up with donations.

“An autism diagnosis is not a reason to lose hope,” Gretchen said. For those with autism, she says, “You’re not alone. Be proud of who you are. Your differences are what make you amazing.”

On April 25, Gretchen plans to share her story at Natick’s Morse Institute Library at 6:30 p.m.

Taken from: bostonherald.com

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