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Writer/Artist Ashley Florek

Writer/Artist Ashley Florek

As autistic people we can accomplish great things because we have a special sight that other people aren’t as lucky to possess. If we learn how to harness this special sight correctly, we can transform the world into a creative, innovative place, and we can show others that it is not a bad thing to be autistic, that it is, in fact, a gift. We can show the world perspectives that people never even thought of.

-Ashley Florek

“Yes. I am AUTISTIC. And Proud of It!” This is the title of Ashley’s Facebook page, which she established “to create a safe, accepting place for autistic people where they can connect with others like them, hear each other’s stories, and never feel ashamed for having this disability.” Ashley adds, “My page makes me feel not so alone in this world that wasn’t made for autistic people. It’s a way of sharing with others what my life is like living with autism.”

In the article below, we feature selected segments from Ashley’s life story in her own words, as well examples of the intricate map drawings she created as a young teenager beginning to explore art and writing, and an excerpt from the book she’s currently working on.

 

Ashley Talks About Her Autism

“It wasn’t until I was older that I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, unfortunately. Because doctors didn’t know much about autism spectrum disorders back in the 1990’s, I was ignored and yelled at throughout school. Only a select few people seemed to understand me. Although I am not the ‘classic’ case of autism, and although I am able to speak and type and write and take care of myself, I am still autistic. I think people tend to focus on the severe autistics and don’t realize there are higher-functioning and not so obvious autistic people… We can do anything we are interested in, and although we may do it differently, we can still do it, and we are good at the things we do because we tend to focus on minute details of things and get obsessed with our interests…

…I was diagnosed with elective mutism (now referred to as selective mutism) because there wasn’t a widely known “spectrum” of autism back then, at least not that I know of. Or, if there was, the doctor I saw knew nothing about it. I think back then my disorder was overlooked because girls are generally more difficult to diagnose to begin with—I’ve read that in several sources and I suppose it may apply to myself. Also I acted completely different in front of doctors, who I was terrified of because they were strangers who would stare at and scrutinize me. Without a proper diagnosis, basically the educators in my school treated my case as ‘She’ll just have to learn to talk, or else she won’t get anywhere’ and ‘She’s doing it for attention. It’s her fault and she’ll just have to learn how to cope and snap out of it.’ The special education classes I received did not fit my individual needs. They were very general and they did not help me. I remember going to them and thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ because the things they were going over with me were so ridiculously below my intelligence.”

Her fear of touch, and other sensitivities..

“I was always different—strange even—to others. I’ve had odd phobias throughout my life: fear of pipes, water in pipes, air in pipes, rusty water out of the faucet, low water pressure, pool drains, fire alarms, balloons because they might pop, static on TVs, lights on the old-fashioned garage door opener hanging on the wall, the red light on the fire alarm, wind howling, losing electricity, the horrendous, unpredictable noise from flushing public toilets …

…I stiffen up when people hug me or why I tend to crouch down in my seat to avoid it, even with family members. It isn’t that I dislike the person attempting to hug and kiss me, it is just that it is a dreadful feeling to be touched …

…I like to have everything planned out by time and I like things to be predictable so things feel safe. Anything out of the ordinary I have a hard time dealing with because it feels like my world has suddenly gone helplessly chaotic and I don’t know how to adapt to sudden changes.”

School presented significant challenges…

“I remember a lesson about telling time and I did not understand it and I waited for someone else to say they didn’t understand it. But no one did and I didn’t know how to say I didn’t understand. I’d be asked questions but I could not speak. The teacher would simply give me a zero at each unanswered question, and as a result, I was failing….

…Sometimes the girls in my class would pull me to them and try to get me to play with them but I saw this as a fun game and would laugh and run away and they would chase me. To me, that was fun. But to them I was a girl who didn’t want anything to do with them, not a girl who wanted to play something other than ‘house’ and clapping games! Eventually they gave up and I was alone again…

…The boys in my class made fun of me and slammed into me purposefully and called me “slow.” They would steal balls of yarn from the teacher and stick it in my cubby and tell the teacher I stole them. I was never so glad when the next term came and never so proud in the next shop class when the new teacher asked me to read something from a book aloud. I read the page loud, clear, and fast. I felt like I showed them! I was smart, not stupid!”

Reminiscing about seventh grade…

“Once we had a spelling bee and the word was ‘aisle,’ and no one in the class could spell it. Mrs. Banas went up and down the rows and the word was spelled ‘isle,’ ‘ile’ and several other ways. I was sitting in my seat grinning. And when it was my turn I proudly spelled A-I-S-L-E. And everyone was turning in their seats to stare at me, aghast that there was an ‘a’ in the word. But my eyes were on Ms. Mullen who was looking at Mrs. Banas with an approving nod. That was a proud moment for me. After 7th grade English, my confidence grew tenfold. I finally had a favorite subject in school…

 

Discovering her passion for writing…

“One day my mother asked me if I’d like to give horseback riding a try. Right away I knew I wanted to ride and ever since my first lesson, I was hooked. I had something to talk about with others. I had something I loved with a fervent passion. I began drawing in a little black drawing book. First they were just simple drawings of horses but throughout the years they turned into stories of horses and stables. I created families who lived on a stable and I would illustrate and label their daily stable routines, learned from my own experiences. Hurstwood Acres was the title of one of my books and I would draw each character, label their height, age, hair color, weight, and then I’d dedicate another page to the horses — their breed, sex, age, riding style. Then I would draw the interior of the stable and label each stall. After that I would draw a bird’s eye view of their property — where the paddocks were, riding arenas, turnout times for horses. Then I’d take a ruler and meticulously draw perfect horizontal lines and post the riding lesson schedule for the day — who had a riding lesson and what horse they were riding and whether or not they should unsaddle the horse afterwards in case that horse had another lesson after. And then I’d draw what each family member did for chores throughout the day. Naturally the kids were homeschooled! And usually they lived on a private island and there was monorail transportation and elevators in the barn. And then there would be a feature to the barn that wasn’t so glamorous—a small spare stall in the corner of the indoor riding arena, because the farm I road at had one in its arena.”

Ashley’s Map Drawings

“I took my drawing book everywhere with me and I could not go anywhere without it. Then I got a zipper pencil case that held my many pencils, erasers, rulers, and sharpeners, and then I had to carry some horse books with me so eventually I carried all my tools in a bag, lugging it wherever I went. My father would take me out to eat every Friday night and we’d stay there all the way up until 11 pm sometimes while I’d just draw. He’d patiently ask me every now and then if I was ready to leave yet. Eventually I’d say yes only because I knew he wanted to get the heck out of there! I got positive attention for my drawings and I would love explaining about horses to classmates and teachers. At the same time I had a great way to keep myself busy; it was a solitary activity that I could do by myself and it was a great way of communicating my interests.”

Today, Ashley is a college graduate who made the dean’s list before earning her Bachelor of Arts in English and writing. Her literary interests include the Medieval Period and English Romanticism.