Catherine Abbott, of the University Ward, Tempe YSA Stake, is a girl on a mission – so to speak. That is to say, at 21 she feels her mission is to let others know what it’s like to live on a daily basis with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD.
Awareness of ASD has risen dramatically in the last decade, yet there is still a great deal of confusion about the disease, partly because it manifests through such a wide range of symptoms. ASD is a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impairs social, communicative and cognitive functions of individuals.
An estimated 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. In 2014, statistics showed a staggering 1 in 64 children were identified as being somewhere on the spectrum, with boys 5 times as likely as girls to have ASD. There is evidence that it is genetically-based, but otherwise it cuts across all racial, cultural, social and economic demographics. While advances continue to be made in the treatment and management of the disease, there are still many unanswered questions.
In the meantime, people like Catherine are faced with trying to navigate the subtleties of a complex world on a daily basis. First diagnosed with autism in elementary school where social and academic challenges are often magnified, she also suffers from ADHD. As she describes it, “My thoughts are coming through like a fast rabbit…. I feel like I have to go someplace all the time, but I don’t really need to go. I wish I could control that feeling.”
With supportive family, friends and special education teachers, Catherine was able to complete her schooling and graduate from Tempe High School in 2014. After high school, she signed up for the BYU-Idaho Pathway Program, and encouragement from teachers and classmates there led her to find new ways to express herself.
Catherine began keeping a journal to develop her writing skills. One entry describes her journey this way: “People gave me this inspiration to write a book. It has helped me bring out my creative side and it helps others understand how we with autism write [and think] and I’m trying to express our thoughts better.” She recently published her writings online through Amazon Kindle in a volume entitled Living with Autism: We Believe.
Catherine also found a new means of expression through photography. “Being a photographer is fun and rewarding because you can get a glimpse of what [the world] looks like through the point of view of someone else,” says Catherine. Her photos have helped her find new ways to connect with others, build friendships and find beauty in the world.
“Sometimes, for people with autism it is hard to share what they think or express what they are feeling.” A strong advocate for “laughter, hugs, and big smiles,” Catherine finds joy in nature and serving others. She recommends these outlets for everyone and hopes sharing her work will give others a desire to become better informed about autism.
Despite her daily challenges, Catherine’s faith has been a guiding light. She writes, “God knows all of us one by one. We all have different plans on this earth. The only one that knows fully the scale of our life is Heavenly Father.”
To learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder go to www.azautism.org.