I am including in this article: “My Journey to Social Inclusion” written by Tim, “A Mom’s Perspective,” written by his mom, Amy, as well as, a two-page pamphlet created by Tim with ten simple tips on how to include children with disabilities,
I enjoyed meeting this wonderful young man via Zoom. I have also included some of the questions and answers of that interview.
My Journey to Social Inclusion
I grew up with autism that coexisted with ADHD, auditory processing disorder, and a tic disorder. I strived to overcome most of my challenges, but the biggest challenge that was hard to overcome was to be socially included by non-disabled students. I wanted to be socially included by them, but it was difficult because they did not understand how to include me.
I tried to make friends with many groups in high school, but each one socially excluded me in different ways. They would bully me, gossip about me, and ignore me. Some others managed to socially include me, but they gave me limits of how I was going to be included by them. The students of those particular groups said hello to me, sat at my lunch table, and volunteered with me, but whenever I asked for their phone numbers or asked to hang out with me at restaurants, parties, beaches, and at other places, they would politely exclude me by telling excuses to me such as, “I’m too busy!” or “I already got plans!” I wish that students would have given me the full experience of being socially included, rather than socially including me with limits. Being treated differently from non-disabled people made me sad, and I was bored during the weekends, winter/spring breaks, and during summer vacations.
Not having the full social inclusion experiences by non-disabled students made me have a more difficult time with my schoolwork, it had negative impacts on my emotions, and it made my tic disorder worse. I felt depressed and hopeless about my future.
Despite the bitter feelings of social isolation, I met twin girls at a vacation bible school that I volunteered at in the summer of 2016. They are non-disabled, play on the soccer team, and attend mainstreamed classes. The twin girls have a sister with down syndrome, who I grew up with. I became good friends with the twin girls. We text each other, go out to eat at restaurants, and hang out at other places together. They gave me the time to get together with them. They are there for me whenever I want to talk to them. They made me feel happier during the times I was socially isolated from the rest of the non-disabled community.
After I graduated high school in June 2018, I joined a program called Best Buddies. I joined the Princeton University chapter. Best Buddies is a non-profit organization that pairs non-disabled people with a partner with a disability, for them to become friends together. Best Buddies does group activities and parties for them to get together. The non-disabled person and their friend with a disability, contact each other and hang out at places outside of Best Buddies functions. The Best Buddies program is all about helping people with disabilities find friends who share similar interests. I got paired up with a girl who is the same age as I am. We both texted each other and we hung out at restaurants within the Princeton, NJ area. We also got to walk around town together. I enjoy hanging out with her as much as I enjoy hanging out with the twin girls.
In November 2018, I made a pamphlet called “How to be a Good Influence to People with Disabilities”. It is designed for younger children, to teach them how to socially include people with disabilities. The pamphlet lists a description about what a disability is and how it affects people. It then lists 10 simple steps of how to help and befriend someone with a disability. It has been published by the NJ Coalition of Inclusive Education and seen in many places. The Asbury Park Press has written 2 front page stories about me, that went viral. Other newspaper publishers wrote articles about my pamphlet and my efforts to promote social inclusion for those with disabilities. I shared my pamphlet and the newspaper articles I was featured in to my young adult youth group in Allentown, NJ. A lot of the members gave me their phone numbers and give me time to hang out with them at various places. This group of people accept me for who I am and feel lucky to hang out with me and have me in their group.
Every time I was socially excluded by the non-disabled community, I went through depression and it was not only hard for me, but it was also hard for my family, when I was socially excluded. Having experiences hanging out with non-disabled people changed my life in a positive way. My ambition to be socially included by the non-disabled community is not only a desire for myself, but I want other people with disabilities to be socially included by the non-disabled community, without being given limits of how they are going to be included by them. I want to see a world in which non-disabled people will allow those with autism and other disabilities to engage in conversations together, contact each other, hang out at restaurants, movie theaters, beaches, etc. Providing education about disabilities and social inclusion to everyone, is the solution to making society more socially inclusive for those with autism and other disabilities. Teaching about disabilities and how to socially include them is my biggest strength. Every time school districts provide presentations, lessons, and assemblies about disabilities and social inclusion, we are making the world more socially inclusive, one step at a time.
A MOM”S PERSPECTIVE
By AMY Rohrer
Typical to kids on the Autism spectrum, Timothy exhibited many developmental issues growing up. He was extremely speech delayed with auditory processing problems, attention problems, obsessive thoughts, and a tic disorder. He struggled tremendously in school as a child, and had a personal aide for many years. In fact, he was not able to really speak in full sentences until he was about 8 years old. His early years were packed with speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social skills groups, and whatever activity I could find to help integrate him and improve his skills. We worried about what he would be like as an adult, and if he would be able to function in the community.
However, something clicked for Tim during high school, after he went through his adolescent changes. He began to blossom in ways that nobody ever imagined. He matured and was very focused on achieving the same things that most teens do. However, the thing he struggled most with was no longer academics, but he struggled to be accepted by his peers. Tim often felt misunderstood and isolated from almost everyone in his school, due to his disability. There were times where he felt quite depressed and hopeless about his future. He longed to be invited to places like the mall, movies, and the beach with his typical peers, but he was never asked. He begged his school to have an assembly to teach about acceptance, but it never happened.
Despite all the hardship he faced, Tim had one quality that made him stand out, and that was persistence. Tim demonstrated motivation for change in the world, not only for himself, but for all children with disabilities. Even though in high school it was extremely difficult for his voice to be heard, he didn’t’ give up on his dream for students with disabilities to be given the full opportunity of friendship and inclusion. When Tim graduated high school, we had no idea what was going to come next for him. He continued his education in vocational school for computers. However, what transpired a few months later was something nobody ever expected. One evening, Tim emerged from his bedroom with an essay that he wrote on how to treat kids with disabilities. It had 10 simple tips on how to include children with disabilities, with pictures to go with it (Visit this link to view Tim’s pamphlet). Little did Tim or we know, that this was going to be the moment that changed his life. That essay was turned into a pamphlet by Tim and published by the NJ Coalition of Inclusive Education. Tim landed on the front page of the Asbury Park Press twice, and his pamphlet became an international sensation. His pamphlet was seen and used around the world. It was even translated into the Latvian language and used in a Latvian school.
Tim was then asked to be the opening speaker for the Division of Mental Health. He did not think he would be able to speak in public, but he decided to face his fear of public speaking and took center stage. His audiences were truly inspired, and he was told he would be the next one to change the world. Tim was also asked to create school assemblies for his local district, for all grade levels. Teachers and students applauded him for speaking up, and he has become a known figure that can inspire acceptance and inclusion.
When the pandemic began, and the whole world was isolated, Tim decided to take his work to the next level. He said the feelings we all felt being isolated during covid, was how he felt during high school. To occupy his time and cope with the stress, he created his own YouTube Channel, where he animated and created videos about disabilities, inclusion, friendship and more. Tim also wrote a children’s book and illustrated it on his own. It is titled Timmy’s Story: A Story About Autism and Friendship! Tim’s book was self-published and was recently released on Amazon. Tim has a unique gift of being able to teach children through his own experiences, that promote understanding and acceptance. He is a true inspiration to anyone that knows a child with a disability.
Today at the age of 22, Tim is an accomplished author, motivational speaker, self-advocate and educator on disabilities and inclusion. If you had seen this child who was once nonverbal, full of obsessive thoughts, and who struggled tremendously in school, you would never believe that this would be the next chapter of his life. Tim has made it his mission to teach about disabilities, friendship, and inclusion, so children can grow up feeling accepted and included and not struggle as he did.
Tim Rohrer: THE INTERVIEW
Faye Simon: I felt so bad for you, as I read about the difficulties you had in school. Once you graduated high school, how was it different?
Tim Rohrer: In high school I did not want to reveal my disability, because I thought knowing I had autism, it would make it worse. I filled my days at Monmouth County Career Center until last year when I was 21, now I am 22. I participated in a church group where I revealed that I had autism. People started inviting me to hang out and give me their numbers. I work at ShopRite stocking yogurt and other dairy products.
FS: How is working at ShopRite?
TR: Totally inclusive. Employees are nice to me and not many give me a hard time. At ShopRite they are flexible when I have speaking engagement, and let me work different days.
FS: What advice do you have for high school graduates with disabilities?
TR: Tell people how you want to be treated. Tell them your diagnosis and how they can talk to you.
FS: What advice would you give to employers about people with disabilities?
TR: Do not leave them unemployed, unless they are not qualified for the job.
FS: Do you miss school?
TR: I have mixed feelings. I wish they had programs like Best Buddies, pairing someone with a disability with someone without a disability.
FS: What is your schedule like now?
TR: ShopRite 4-8 pm, taking classes at community college, doing homework, speaking engagements.
FS: Do you like talking more to kids or adults?
TR: Kids. I like talking to kids more than adults, because I want to teach them when they are young how to include people with disabilities, so when they grow up they won’t exclude people with disabilities.
FS: What else would you like to share?
TR: Don’t volunteer just for hours, treat them as a friend
FS: What advice would you like to give others with disabilities?
TR: Don’t give up on your dreams.
About TIM ROHRER:
Tim is a young adult with autism who is also an author, speaker, self-advocate and educator on disability inclusion. Tim has authored a children’s guide on how to include children with disabilities and children’s book that he wrote and illustrated. He his work has been seen and used all over the world. He has spoken at schools and major conferences and even made it to the top speaking at the NJ Department of Education. To learn more about him, visit the website he created with the many of his original resources: https://tips4inclusion.wixsite.com/disabilityinclusion. What Timothy wrote inside the cover of the copy of Timmy’s Story that he sent to me, and what Timothy is all about, is: “Choose kindness, acceptance, and inclusion!”
Read the article here.