Daniel’s Autism Journey
Daniel Ortiz, PPH Communications Specialist
Every April, we celebrate Autism Awareness Month to increase the understanding and acceptance of autism.
Also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it involves a broad range of challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism affects one in 44 children. As it turned out, one of the children was me. Since April is the month designated to increase the awareness of autism, I thought it was the right time to share my autism journey.
My journey began in 1998, when I was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. I had a severe case of the flu and a febrile seizure. I was blue, and my parents thought I was near death; fortunately, however, I started crying, and that’s when my mother and father decided to have me undergo medical testing. The doctors ruled out everything, such as deafness and ADHD, thus leaving autism, specifically Asperger’s syndrome, as the main diagnosis. My parents told me that I did not start speaking until I was five years old. Even when I was able to speak, I struggled with socialization, as I was shy and could not make friends easily. I also struggled with sensory issues, especially loud noises, which would send me into a fit. Believe me, those fits were not a pretty sight!
Even though I made a lot of friends in school, it did not come easy for me. During the sixth grade, I was bullied for my autism, which put a huge strain on my mental health. One such instance was bullying from someone who used to be one of my best friends. That hurt the most, as I loved him like a brother, and to see him turn his back on me was painful. That taught me, however, that I must be strong, and to not only develop thick skin, but to also accept who I am as a person. I had to accept that I have autism.
I do not look at autism as a disability, in fact, I think of it as an ability I used to become the man I am today. I find it helpful that I am practicing karate, achieving my fourth-degree black belt, which has helped me with discipline. I was able to enjoy a successful academic career, where I graduated from Philadelphia Academy Charter School (PACS) with a strong grade point average (GPA) of 3.75, as well as Philadelphia Academy Charter High School (PACHS), where I was not only an honors student with a GPA of 3.88, but also a member of the National Honors Society. This success would carry into my collegiate career, where I graduated from Holy Family University with Summa Cum Laude honors with a GPA of 3.9. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications (Social and Emerging Media) with a minor in history. I am also a proud member of the Freemasons.
I am not perfect, by any means, as I admit that I still struggle with anxiety, and some socialization hesitations, especially when meeting new people. I am honored to share the story of my autism diagnosis, and hope that my story can inspire everyone else to share their stories.
Daniel (middle) as a Freemason
Daniel (top left) with his bowling team