Being a middle schooler is already tough as it is–dealing with puberty, the pressure to fit in with your peers, and succeeding academically are notoriously challenging and frustrating, but when you also struggle with a disability and have to face taunting from unsympathetic peers, it makes the experience all the more difficult.

13-year old Sarah Roberts is a middle school student in Tennessee. She also has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She faced bullying from other students in class and realized that a lot of the misunderstandings about her particular behaviors stem from a lack of knowledge about autism. Roberts decided to take action and was determined to educate her peers about what exactly Autism Spectrum Disorder is. Behaviors she expressed related to her autism caused classmates to make fun of her.

When describing her experience as a teenager with autism in a video with WSMV, she noted her difficulties in socializing with peers, as well as her sensitivity to sounds, bright lights, and the anxiety that results from being exposed to them. Challenges with social interactions, anxiety, and problems with sensory processing (hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sounds, touch, smell, and other stimuli) are characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder and have become some of the most recognizable symptoms.

Roberts worked with school faculty to plan a special lesson on World Autism Day, which included watching videos created by other people in the spectrum. The lesson inspired and enlightened students–they were able to leave school knowing more about autism than when they arrived, with some even realizing that people in their own life had autism. The lesson fostered empathy among Robers’ peers and helped challenge the stigma surrounding autism. What made the lesson even more powerful was that it came from the mind and mouth of someone who experiences life with autism firsthand.

Being a self-advocate can be difficult, but Roberts did amazing work in educating her peers and representing the community.

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