This month we're asking our autistic community members What Do You Want? What Do You Need? We're featuring their answers all April long, right here. Today we're having a conversation with high school student Tom Stratton. Please read, listen, and share.
I try to enjoy things and see everything from the brighter side. When I like something, like a topic or a hobby, I love it and when I talk about it or do it, I reach a level of happiness that is amazing. People tend to see me as a laid back type B person and a joker, mostly because I tend to joke around in school and with my friends. I like to be the center of attention and I’ve learned that by making people laugh is the best way to stand out. But I’m actually more of a type A personality. I love having a schedule. Knowing what will happen and when is a big plus for me. I also enjoy when things are nice and neat and organized. But most of all I like making people happy. It’s just little things that brighten people’s days, like when you walk down the street and you just make someone laugh or you give them a high five. My thought is if there’s no harm than why not. The worst thing that can happen is they get a fun story to tell someone else.
What are some things that make you happy? Why?
When it comes to enjoying things I either love something or hate it with passion. One thing that I love is baseball because I’m a huge San Francisco Giants fan and even look a lot like Matt Cain so when I watch them I find sort of a peace. I also love music. One of my favorite pastimes is listening to rap with headphones on while jumping on my trampoline. This is because I love listening to rap because of the lyrics and beats, but when I listen to music I want to move around so that’s where the trampoline comes in nicely. I enjoy telling jokes and goofing off because, like I’ve said before, I love being the center of attention and jokes help. But one of my favorite things, if not my favorite, that makes me happy is food. Oh man it’s great, all of it just food in general is amazing especially junk food like chips, Monster, cupcakes, burgers, fries, burritos, pizza, all of it makes me very happy.
One of the things that makes me feel really happy is uncontrollable laughter with friends. That is probably my favorite because it feels great and makes me forget about everything else. I also just love being alone and relaxed (playing a game, sorting baseball cards or watching TV) because it gives me a chance to just recharge after a long day of school.
What are some things you avoid whenever possible? Why?
Big cities because they’re full of weird smells, a lot of people, lights, and sounds. All in all, it’s terrible. I also try to stay away from change in schedules largely because it takes me some time to get it into my brain that I’m going somewhere and it takes me some down time to get ready. I also just don’t like the sheer uncertainty of it because I don’t like it when things are unpredictable. But other than that I’m ok with everything else because everything else has some sort of plus side that I like.
What features does your ideal living space have, and why?
Well, I would want it to be out in nature or in a small town. I want a place that is close to nature, like the ocean or the woods, but also has a fair amount of people who live there so not a super small town or a big town. I would like to live in a town with a small nice downtown with things to do and not too far from a big city. The house would be quiet and neat with everything organized. I love it when each thing has its own place. I would want my home to be welcoming with a lot of rooms. I would also want a big yard with trees and grass just to relax in during the day to help me get some fresh air and some down time. I would want a swimming pool because swimming has always been relaxing for me. In the house, I would want to have things in it that are fun or funny like interesting artwork, entertaining books, weird tools -- just things that you see and say, “ha ha I like that.”
What are your favorite books, movies, and/or TV shows?
My favorite books are ones with adventure or books that have some comedy. I like to read something that is more of an entertaining read ... something you read in your free time just to relax.
When it comes to movies, comedies and action again take the cake. But seeing that I’m a teen boy, I tend to like teen boy humor like; Harold and Kumar, The Dictator, Borat, The Hangover, Ted, and those types of movies. But some action movies that are on the top of my list are Die Hard, The Rock, Escape from New York, those sort of guy manly movies.
There is almost nothing I like more than TV after a long hard day so I like to watch funny shows like; Family Guy, The Simpsons, Impractical Jokers, those ones things that make you feel happy.
What autistic experiences would you like to see more of, when it comes to storytelling efforts like books, movies, and/or TV shows?
I would want to see some autistic characters that seem more like me. After some movies, like Rainman, with an autistic character my friends always ask me why I don’t act like that or constantly know how many toothpicks have just fallen. It takes me some time to explain that autism looks different ways. Rarely do I see a movie or book or TV show that has an autistic character that doesn’t seem autistic all the time -- like what happens in the real world a lot of times. Sometimes with autistic people you wouldn’t always know they were autistic.
What are some things you'd like the media and other people to stop saying about autistic people?
I would want them to stop talking about us like we’re different than other people in a bad way or we’re unlucky to have autism. One of the most common things that ticks me off about that is when people talk about a cure. First of all, it’s impossible because autism isn’t something you can just turn off. It’s how you were born and it will always be a part of you. Second, even if it was possible, autism isn’t a bad thing that should be “turned off.”
If you could change one thing to make the world more friendly to autistic people, what would it be?
I would have people look at autism not as something that is a bad thing like, “oh man he has autism that sucks,” but something that is ok to have or is even a good thing.