Caitlyn Miller was diagnosed with autism when she was in middle school.She had been having a hard time with her schoolwork. Her grades dropped from excellent to middling, and she had a difficult time organizing for class or interacting with her peers. She often could not make eye contact.
She would cry or close herself off from the outside world, and not say a word to anyone. Herteachers and principal thought she was being difficult.
“It was just frustrating,” she said.
Then a school psychologist, John Rolph, diagnosed her with a form of high-functioning autism known as pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified, she said.
Everything started to improve over time, said Caitlyn, who is now 16. Her grades have picked up, she no longer needs her medicine and social interactions are not a problem.
“I probably could have been diagnosed earlier,” she said. “Maybe my middle-school years wouldn’t have been so disgustingly awful.”
Caitlyn is now publishing 1,000 copies of a pamphlet on autism she plans to hand out in the school system, at doctor’s offices and anyone else that wants a copy.
She wrote the pamphlet, “The Autism Puzzle: Finding the Key to the Missing Pieces,” for a Girl Scout project she started last summer. She earned the Girl Scout Gold Award for her efforts.
The pamphlet is not a technical document, but more of a firsthand telling of what it is like to live with the disorder.
People with autism, for instance, have a tough time recognizing and understanding social cues such as facial expressions, vocal intonations and hand gestures, she wrote.
“They live in a more literal world than figurative one, making it difficult for them to understand the social meanings and intentions of others.”
Avoiding probing questions or statements can add to confusion and emotional distress, as can surprises, she wrote. When a meltdown occurs, it is better to leave an autistic person to calm down.
Writing is one of her gifts, Caitlyn said, and she particularly enjoys creating science-fiction stories.
When she becomes an adult, she would like to join the Navy and become an officer, she said.
“I’m American, and I want to help protect my country.”