By Rebekah (Bekah) Douglass

My Biological father was sent to prison in 2005 until 2022. I was raised by a single mom who loved me and my three siblings but struggled to keep shelter and food on the table for all of us.

I was originally diagnosed with Autism when I was around seven. I was confused and didn’t know what it meant to be autistic. People didn’t stop and explain anything to me. Once I was diagnosed with it, everyone started treating me differently. Some people didn’t even want to have their kids around me. I was “undiagnosed” the next year because I cried during an assessment, and the person assessing me at the time thought that if you showed empathy, then you couldn’t be Autistic. I was re-diagnosed with Autism when I was twelve. My Therapist diagnosed me with it, because she noticed I had many symptoms of it. I was scared that I would be treated differently again. It made it worse that my mom would always introduce me as, “This is my daughter, Bek, and she’s Autistic.”

School was tough for me. I was bullied a lot. I felt teachers couldn’t or didn’t know how to help me because I learned differently. I attended four different schools but switched schools seven times. One of the main reasons I dropped out of school was because I felt extremely depressed; teachers treated me differently than other kids. One teacher announced to the class that I was autistic.

I got help from a counselor at Family and Youth [YOOP’s community partner] for 10 or 11 years. They helped me a lot and brought me to YOOP. My sister was also a participant at YOOP and spoke highly of it so I decided to join, and my counselor stayed with me at YOOP until I felt comfortable to come alone. I wanted to complete my high school education, and I was expecting something like school; however, it was completely different. I could work at my own pace, I asked questions when I needed help, and I could take breaks as often as I wanted. The staff is extremely supportive, and they treat me fairly and with compassion. This is the first time someone has seen me for me and not my disability. Now, I realize that people don’t have to know about my Autism. I can choose who knows. I feel it is my choice if I tell people about my mental and neurological diversities. I continue to fight for my rights to this day because people treat me like I can’t make my own decisions.”

About a year after I started at YOOP, I finished my GED a week before my sister. That helped my sister get busy to finish her GED! I did a one-day job shadow at Homeward Bound Pet Clinic, and that gave me the confidence to do an internship with MoonBeam Café and Odditorium where I could work with gems and rocks which is what I want to do for a career. I also went by myself to talk to the vet at Homeward Bound so I could volunteer there. I have been volunteering for almost three months there. A lot has changed in my life because of YOOP!