After dealing with exclusion by his peers over the years, Timothy Rohrer, a now-young adult who was diagnosed with autism as a second-grader, penned and published a pamphlet in which he basically guides people on how to treat those with disabilities.
Rohrer said he struggled fitting in socially with other students in school.
“Having a disability is not easy,” he said. “People with disabilities can’t defend themselves either.”
On his website, Rohrer opens up about the hurdles he faced as a young person with autism, saying, “I (felt) scared, uncomfortable, lonely and lost. I struggled to fit in with my neurotypical peers at school, my job, on social media, and even at a teen youth group. Being socially isolated frightens me.”
Though there were a few students and staff who helped Rohrer with some difficult situations, he knew there were others who were struggling, too, so he sat down and wrote a pamphlet titled, “How to be a Good Influence to People with Disabilities.”
Except, he said, it’s not just for people with disabilities. It’s for everyone who deals with feeling excluded.
“I’m trying to put an end to social isolation,” he said.
In the pamphlet, Rohrer urges people to put themselves in the shoes of those with disabilities and to imagine what it would be like to deal with the same challenges as they do.
Rohrer’s mother, Amy, said her son has gotten a remarkable response.
The guide began circulating quickly and was published by the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education and has now been shared all over the country.
“He’s reached a really big audience — much bigger than we could have imagined,” Rohrer's mother said. “It’s fantastic. I just never expected it to unfold the way it’s unfolded.”
He was also set to make appearances to talk about his work, including at an NJCIE Summer Inclusion Conference.
“I hope (I) can soon create an environment in which people with disabilities are collaborated with neurotypical people in their circle of friends and the chance for them to accomplish their dreams,” Rohrer said.
We're betting most people will agree with Rohrer when he says, "I hope it will become more popular around everyone."
Read the full guide below.
Disabilities affect millions of people. Disabilities makes it hard for people to do things that we take for granted. Having a disability is not always easy. A common obstacle for a lot of people with disabilities is social isolation/exclusion. It is wrong to exclude someone with a disability from socializing with you, as it can worsen their challenges. A disability cannot be cured, but you can provide them with treatment, support, friendship, and love. This guide will help you get a better understanding of people with disabilities and what they really need in their lives.
1. Obviously, do not bully them or tease them, especially since they go through difficult challenges.
2. Do research about physical/mental disabilities and its symptoms. (This will help you gain more knowledge of how to handle someone with a disability)
3. If you witness signs of a disability such as stimming, sensory sensitivity, speech impairments, motor/vocal tics, repetitive behavior, meltdowns, difficulty learning, trouble hearing or seeing, trouble/differences in walking, differences in appearance, etc. It’s okay to be scared at first. But try to get used to helping them out and find out what they want. The signs of a disability as listed above are involuntary and it does not make up who they really are. It is best not to ignore or turn away from them as it can make them feel upset. Always remember to talk to them as you would to your other friends. But do not ask them if they actually have a disability just because you witness the signs of it.
4. If they are distressed, upset, or having a meltdown, try to help them feel better. Help them through the situation by asking them questions to find out what they want. Speak to them in a soft tone. Offer them a hug when appropriate. (However, if they want to be left alone, please respect their privacy)
5. If they have difficulty learning, offer to help them through the assignment they are struggling with.
6. If they have difficulty completing a specific task, help them through it to make things more convenient for them.
7. If someone is physically disabled and they need help to get from one area to another, ask them if they would like assistance to get somewhere. But do not move them without their permission.
8. Please be honest and gentle when communicating with them. It also takes kindness, patience, and compassion to make them feel welcomed.
9. Smile and say hello to them when you approach them.
10. Start conversations with them. Ask them questions such as “Hey! How is your day going?”, “How was your weekend?”, or “Hey! How are you?”. Ask about what they like to do during their free time, ask about what movies or TV shows they like, and questions like those. Then get deeper into the conversation if they are interested in talking about it.
11. Give them compliments such as “I like your outfit.”, “I like your haircut.”, etc.
12. Exchange phone numbers with each other and keep in touch together. People with disabilities would be satisfied to have someone to text and call. If they have social media, send them a friend/follow request and manage to keep in touch on there as well.
13. Make plans to hang out together. Reserve time for them be with you at the mall, park, movie theater, restaurant, amusement park, bowling alley, beach, concert, sporting event, etc. People with disabilities need the experience of being with neurotypical people rather than being monopolized to only communicate with other disabled peers. People with disabilities deserve to make memories just like everyone else.
14. Invite them to parties such as birthday parties, pool parties, BBQ parties, graduation parties, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, and Sweet 16’s.
15. Take pictures and selfies together. People with disabilities would enjoy taking pictures and selfies with other people.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” - Mother Teresa
“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” -Albert Einstein
This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.