My name is Maverick Crawford III and I am an African American man with a story that is full of disappointment and abandonment.
I grew up in a violent neighborhood where crime, poverty, drugs and bad influences ran rampant throughout the community. The majority of the kids in my community only had one thing to look forward to: the penitentiary. The community had no enrichment programs for the youth, medical centers, healthy stores or restaurants, good schools or anything positive for the children. Most of the youth were raised by single parent mothers whose fathers either rarely came around or never met them.
The kids in my community do not have any positive role models or anyone in the home to support them, so they go into the street and find those things they were not receiving at home. Those influences in the street are the negative influences that turn the children in the direction of criminal activity, drug use, prison, and destruction. In the community I’m from, it’s easy to fall onto the wrong path and many young people who are incarcerated in our country come from environments like mine. They are simple a product of their environment.
The community I was from is set up for autistic people, people like me, to fail; without the ability to succeed in any form or fashion. Another big issue in the minority community is that mental health is not addressed and no one believes in it. Since mental health was somewhat a myth to the community, it was a struggle I endure in my life.
I was born in April (Autism Awareness Month) and I was a child that never fit in with anyone, looked an adult in the eye, fixated on one object. I did not respond to my name, enjoyed hurting myself and I was always extremely uncomfortable with being around others. Any time I was put in a social setting my heart would pound so fast and suddenly stop and I sometimes passed out. I was a nervous and anxious wreck around children and had trouble relating to others, so I was excluded from everyone, and always sat alone to myself. My mother or family members did not understand my condition or my odd behavior so they relied on doctors for answers. I had a deformity called “Tongue Tie” which affected me to the point I could not hold down food making me very sick to the point of being both severely constipated one week with frequent vomiting and diarrhea the next week. After having surgery, my mouth felt like it was run over by an 18 wheeler or someone punched me in my mouth, it hurt so badly. It hurt to eat, drink or even to yawn when I was tired, so I began to suck my ring finger. Sucking my ring finger and solitude was a coping mechanism I used to help alleviate the pain of being abnormal and from my family not being able to relate to me.
I was diagnosed with a severe speech impediment, severe mental retardation, severe expressive and receptive language disorder, severe sensory integration dysfunction, auditory processing disorder, dysgraphia (a disorder that causes inability to write coherently), issues with motor processing, anxiety, seizure disorder, and depression. My speech impediment was so bad, I remained silent most of the time in order to not to embarrass myself.
I was not happy because of my appalling speech impediment which made it difficult for me to speak and be understood. Students in my school would laugh and make jokes about my stutter and stammer and how I struggled to make a sound. At age 6, I was diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder (low functioning autistic disorder).
The doctors told my mother that, “Your son will be institutionalized, never finish high school, never drive, never live independently, never attend college, never have a job, never be married, never have a community, and his condition will never improve. Your son will be a couch potato and live with you until he dies because there is no hope for him.” Unfortunately, my mother and family members did not know any better and believed the doctors and treated me differently from my other siblings.
School was a nightmare from the time I was three years old because I had to ride a bus with other students of all kinds of disabilities. Out of all the children on the bus and in my classroom, I had the most severe condition and I was the only one with more than one mental health condition. The other ‘normal’ kids would stand outside the school, watch us board the school bus and call us stupid. (The 90’s kids refer to the bus as the “retarded bus” because all of us had a mental health condition and had to go to a special institution.) The institution was located in the same community where no one believes in mental health and just classify black children with disability as either acting white or retarded. I never fit in with the wrong crowd or even any one crowd, so I was always an outcast and a person who stood by myself.
Students and community residents refer to the institution as “the retarded school.” The institution was a dilapidated building that had bullet holes in the windows and it was rundown. I had a primary teacher who was very nice but her assistant was the complete opposite. The assistant would take over when the primary teacher was in meetings, or not present,which was about 60 percent of the time. When she was not there all hell would break loose because that means I was at the hands of the assistant. She was abusive in her way and had a special plan on how to deal with my behavior. When she was upset with me, she would get a rubber band, stretch it as far as she could, and released the band striking my skin. She would primarily do this to me when I urinated on myself; I was not potty trained like the other children where. The rubber band hit my skin so hard that it left cuts and bruises on my hands, arms and legs.
She also would lock me in this pitch dark closet that was far from the class. The closet felt like a sauna with a stench of soured milk. The heat was so intense that my clothes were drenched in sweat. I heard a noise that sounded like a rat crawling around but I never discovered where the noise was coming from. I was so scared that my body would start shivering. Unfortunately, the teacher would only release me when it was time for lunch and I became used to being locked in a closet. My primary teacher informed her that I had seizures periodically but the teacher assistant was too impatient and seemed to refuse to try and understand my situation. When I had seizures around her I felt as if I was going to die because she would escalate the situation and made things worse and would not even notify someone for help.
My first-grade teacher was no better, she once told me, “Maverick you are the stupidest kid in the world, and since you have autism, you will never amount to anything, have a career, and you will be institutionalized until you die.” She would remind me how stupid and useless I was and enjoyed embarrassing me in front of the whole class. Classmates would automatically accuse me of doing anything wrong, and my teacher would punish me. When I was in trouble I was forced to sit outside in the cold or in the the heat or I was put in the corner; always somewhere away from everyone. During recess my teacher would force me to sit at a desk outside facing a tree and other students would approach my desk and tease me saying, “Ha Ha Maverick, you’re in trouble and can have fun Ha Ha.” I was forced to hear this and more from students and my teacher. She was always in the background saying, “This is what happens when you cannot behave and follow the rules.” I would just sit there until recess was over. I was in detention nearly every day or in the principal’s office in trouble. She gave me tons of assignments to do but I never started them because I did not understand the work and no one would help me understand.
There is one story in particular that has always stayed with me.
One afternoon, the teacher had dismissed the class but she left me in the classroom. I was sleeping at my desk with a red crayon in my hand. When I woke up I walked over to the door and noticed it was was locked. I was too afraid to move so I sat at my desk shaking with sweat dripping down on my desk. Out of nowhere, I begin to violently jerk and shake and eventually fell to the ground. I continued to shake and hit my head on the ground due to a seizure. With my body continuing to rapidly shake it caused me to hit the wall and made noticeable marks with the red crayon I had in my hand. She was so furious that her face was turning red and I thought she was going to erupt. She grabs me by my ear and drags me to the principal office. She grabs my ear so hard that she almost ripped my ear off. She pushed me to the principal office. She told the principal and the campus police officer. Then my teacher grabbed my ear and dragged me out of the office to my mother.
My entire school career consisted of being bullied for the way I looked, talked, walked. Everything about me resulted in humiliation from others.
None of my family members understood me and treated me as if I was a worthless human being. I never even attempted to reach out to anyone for help because no one understood me and I was rejected from everyone. I began to become depressed and suicidal because the doctors told me I was worthless; my teacher hated me, my classmates bullied me, the community I lived in did not believe in mental illness or therapy and my family members had no high hopes for me at all. Even though I was in a therapy session for the many different issues I had I was continually told that I was be lazy, retarded and acting white. The regular and cool kids would call me all kinds of demeaning names such as retarded, stupid, incompetent and many more. I had low self-esteem, never could understand cues in social settings.
I was a fatherless black man with no one that believed in me.
When I was a teenager, I suffered from a condition which was called inflammatory bowel disease which resulted in my having frequent bloody diarrhea. My condition became so bad that I missed 15 days in 6th and 7th grade, 21 days of school in 8th grade and 33 days in 9th grade. I had to move from school to school because I was denied enrollment from being absent too many times. No matter where I landed, though, I was still bullied and singled out by everyone.
Minority students viewed me as an atypical African American person because I did not behave like ordinary African Americans did. The fact that I spoke with manners and respect for others, not sagging my pants, I was called white, gay, irrelevant, odd, not cool and many more. Sadly, there are some minorities who view a person with an education or who speaks with a high level of respect and doesn’t break the law as someone who is abnormal.
During my middle and high school days, many of the minority students would classify me as odd or unusual so I never belonged to any group or cliques, I had no friends and mostly just sat and kept to myself. Lunchtimes were the hardest times because everyone was in one significant area with little to no supervision. Most students eat lunch in the cafeteria and socialize with others. That was not my case. The cafeteria was not a great place to hide from students. I was so afraid of everyone because most of the students enjoyed bullying and harassing me. I would run over to the lunch line, pick up my food and dash to the restroom far from the cafeteria. They were very unsanitary and smelled like feces but hardly any students came to use these restrooms. I would run to the last stall and hide in the corner without any part of my body being seen by anyone. I would quickly gobble down my food in silence and away from students. I did not feel safe sitting in a cafeteria eating with students and staff looking at me. Even though those restrooms were nasty that was the only place that I had felt safe. After I was finished eating I would sit in the stall until lunchtime was over, having to block out the horrible smell because it was the only place I could go. Every day I was in the restroom eating my lunch just to avoid everyone until the students were back in class. I was often late going back to class.
At age 16, I was sent to live with a half-brother on my father’s side. He was given temporary custody of me and promised me a better life. After a few years of being a positive mentor to me and an effective male influence my autism and difficulties led to punishment/abuse. I was beaten with a blunt object in close range and then he had me lie across my bed naked and beat me like a runaway slave. Other times he would punch me in my face, a violent blow that sent me to the ground. Every time I received a beating, I struggled to breathe, my heart would stop, my body would twitch and I would lose consciousness and fall to the floor. My whole life would pass through like a movie and my eyes would close and I thought I was dead. Then I would wake up, lying on the floor. He came into my class and shamed me in public in front of my peers and teachers about how pathetic I was. The worst beating I received was when he watched other people with autism who had support and positivity in their lives (which I never had growing up) and he would compare me to them and say, “Why can’t you be like them, they are happy and successful and you are retarded, stupid, lazy, scared and cannot do anything but lay on your behind.” After he degraded me for not being successful like other people with autism, I was beaten again and forced to stand in a corner with my arms up, while struggling to stand from the beating. I was never good enough for anyone.
I either had autism or was just too retarded to do anything positive in life. I came from an environment and lived a life where no one believed in me, and I was constantly rebuked for being different. At age 19, I decided to leave my brother and he became upset. I was beaten severely and thrown out of the hotel on my head. He yelled at me and said, “You’re worthless, I don’t care what happens to you, you can be dead for all I care.” That is when I started planning to commit suicide.
I went to stay at a homeless shelter where thoughts of suicide continued to cross my mind because I felt that there was no purpose for me to live. All I had was a white shirt and blue shorts, sleeping outside in the cold weather with only a mat and a bath towel to keep me warm. Before Haven for Hope I had slept out on bus stops downtown, hiding in small areas in the central library downtown, sleeping in the grass, or on the ground or in remote locations downtown so that I would not be bothered by anyone. I would wake up with pink eye, ear infections and other problems due to sleeping outside. Going to school was a challenge because I had to carry my belongings everywhere I went.
One day I decided that I was tired of being rejected, abused, hurt, betrayed, bullied, humiliated, and everything else. I decided it was time for me to expire. My cause of death would be strangulation caused by being hanged from a shower rod.
When everyone was sleeping and the guards and staff where not paying any attention to me, I put my plan into action. I put on a white shirt, white shorts and grabbed my white bed sheet and walked to the shower room. I used a showering rod that was about 10 feet from the floor. I stood on a bucket and a few books I found in the day room which gave me enough height to reach the shower rod. Then I wrapped the bed sheet around my neck and the shower rod as tight as I could. Afterward, I turned off the lights and kicked the bucket and my body rapidly dropped to where I was hanging from the shower rod. My circulation began to decline causing me to become lightheaded. I quickly had trouble breathing and dizziness. My neck slightly turned red and I could no longer feel my body. I was so excited at this moment that I was going to die at any moment and then the sheet tore. Once the sheet ripped in half I fell hard to the ground unconscious.
The minute the rope tore and I stopped breathing my whole life played in my head like I was watching a movie. I noticed a bright white light in the dark restroom, which people in the past told me it was the light at the end of the tunnel, and death was approaching. My heart had stopped, my lungs stopped working, no blood was circulating and my eyes shut. Me going unconscious was ultimately what caused the plan to not work because the sheet could not hold up my 6 foot 3 body any longer.
I thought I was dead for sure, but unfortunately, I was resuscitated by EMS and forced to live in this brutal world.
I had to attend a psychiatric hospital, counseling sessions and was continuously being watched at the homeless shelter so I would not try to kill myself again. I told both my counselors at the shelter and my psychiatrist that I wanted to sign paperwork where a physician can assist with prescribing a lethal dosage of medicine that could cause my death. This process is laid out in the Death with Dignity Physicians Assisted Death/Dying law that allows that to happen. I believed I was competent even though I have autism.
I was suffering from a cancer that was decimating my body, self-esteem, confidence and everything else. I was tired of the pain I suffered every day and death was taking too long for me.
I had no other way but to die and I was willing to accept me being dead at 19. There was no way I would have a future, get married, have kids or do anything but just be a couch potato that lives off of family members. My cancer was in the terminal stage because everything on the inside was damaged and could no longer be healed. I remember the staff giving me this long form that I finished in less than three minutes because I was ready to die. My application was forded to a physician at the medical center in town where he denied my request and told me it’s only for those suffering a physical illness, not those wanting to commit suicide. I was completely disappointed that I had to live in a world when I have no purpose or desire to live.
Since all my plans of suicide failed I thought for a second maybe I can do something with my life.
When I made the mistake in telling people that I wanted to attend college they laughed at me and said, “You are way too stupid and you would not last one hour in college. You’re a nervous wreck, an autistic moron who is a worthless couch potato.” Every time I had an ambitious goal or some positive aspiration, I was quickly ridiculed, rebuked and discouraged from many people just because I had autism. No one taught me how to study, prep for college or do anything that might help me actually be a success. I was not the popular kid in school, not the smartest kid in school and was denied by many scholars and scholarship opportunities.
College is not meant for people like me to be successful so I had to work hard to open my doors because none was going to be open to me.
College forces people with disabilities to be something they’re not, especially when it came to class participation. I went from being a person who fainted and vomited when giving presentations, an F student, and on the verge of being expelled to maintaining a 3.6 GPA, making the Dean’s List, receiving many awards (such as being selected out of 1500 other students as the Most Outstanding Student in my department) and finished by graduating cum laude.
After finishing college, I decided to turn my attention to help inspire those in my shoes to always strive for better no matter how bad your situation is. On my off days, I enjoy working in the community with several organizations that allow me to be a positive influence and give people the things I never had in my life.
I will not let the past to stop me from pursuing my goals and autism has been the number one component to my success in school.
I remain humble in spirit and stick to my primary objective of trying my best daily by taking small steps. I want to help, support and inspire others on the autism spectrum to not give up or lose hope no matter what you are going through; keep pushing, keep striving, keep persevering to the end there will be a greater reward. Always be proud of your autism because you are unique and special in your way, no matter what any doctor, parent, students, siblings or anybody tells you.
Thanks for letting me share my story –