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Scholar Interview: Tory Ridgeway

Scholar Interview: Tory Ridgeway
Boundaries help us build trust, safety, and respect in relationships. How do you set and communicate boundaries with others around you?

Clear communication yields the best results when establishing boundaries. If I need to communicate boundaries, I must ensure that my delivery is tactful and kind. I articulate my needs using the same methods as I do when advocating for myself: by using the “w” questions. I communicate directly with the person I’m creating the boundary with, i.e., the who. I express what the boundary is and tell them why I am making it. I do not shy away from expressing when I will enforce the boundary if necessary.

While it can sometimes make me seem like a buzzkill, I am putting myself first by clearly setting expectations and enabling others to understand me better in the future. I want to create a positive atmosphere and give a good impression while establishing clear and mutually respectful relationships.

For example, I’ve had friends try to convince me to attend parties even after I’ve clearly explained that loud noises overstimulate me. In those instances, I just didn’t show up. I then waited for an opportune time to articulate my absence and request that they refrain from asking me to put myself in environments that aren’t healthy for me. I suggested that we plan activities where I can be included and we all can have fun while keeping my ears intact. They agreed.

How do you keep yourself safe when developing personal or professional relationships online?

As a rule, I do not develop personal relationships online. My preferred way to initiate relationships is in person. This affords me the opportunity to observe how people present themselves and interact with others. It’s way too easy for people to sit behind a keyboard and create the perfect illusion of themselves. There’s a lot of truth in the statement, “Nothing on social media is real.”

However, I’m a gamer, so I interact with an array of individuals online. Because these relationships are often within the context of the game, conversations can easily be controlled. I only talk in general about my day-to-day life. I intentionally avoid discussing anything too personal about myself. I never give out my phone number, address, or anything that would lead a person to think I am vulnerable.

I remain cordial and focused on our professional tasks regarding online professional relationships, whether with mentors, job recruiters, or even coworkers. I understand the importance of not mixing work with personal life and thus try to stay task-oriented and friendly even under stress.

Have you had any encounters with law enforcement or first responders, and if so, do you have any tips as to how autistic people can navigate through these interactions?

I considered myself well-prepared for emergencies. If I were honest, I’d say I was confident that I’d be able to handle such an encounter. After all, I attended multiple mock traffic stops and first responders’ presentations. I even gave autism awareness speeches where law enforcement and first responders were in attendance. I also keep autism information in my car to present to police officers and first responders in an emergency. I knew, without a doubt, that the time I spent preparing and practicing would prove to be well worth it. Boy, was I wrong.

Last year, I was involved in a car accident. I was away at school and alone when it happened. Police, fire department, and ambulance were called. They arrived with sirens blazing. I was both terrified and overstimulated. Can you imagine trying to cover your ears and talk on the phone simultaneously? Despite all of my preparation, the reality of the situation was overwhelming.

I’ve concluded that no matter how much we prepare, these encounters will be scary and throw us off balance. However, preparation and having the printed information describing my disability and how officers and responders can best help me proved invaluable.

I would encourage every person with Autism to prepare for such encounters. If I were speaking in person, I would repeat that last sentence.

I’m a huge proponent of disclosing my disability and encourage others to do the same. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness and teach others how to best support us. We are valuable, exceptional people who have unique perspectives to offer this world. We’re assets in educating first responders and law enforcement on how to best help us. As a matter of fact, we are the experts.

Do you have any recommendations or tips on safety precautions or guidelines for autistic individuals living independently?

Individuals with autism need to remember that being independent does not mean being alone. It is always okay to ask for help from a trusted friend, family member, neighbor, or coworker. In my personal experience with living alone, I take precautions by maintaining a network of people who know about me and my health.

For example, I have interception, which means that I cannot feel pain like most people. A level 2 pain for me is the most people’s level 9. This is very dangerous and scary. In fact, I’ve been hospitalized twice because of it.

I feel it’s imperative to have an easily accessible place in our homes where we keep essential information about ourselves. It’s a good idea to have emergency contacts, allergy information, medical and insurance information, etc., visible in an emergency.

Also, getting acquainted with a neighbor or two is ideal because they can watch out for us and notice if something isn’t right. Ideally, they’d also have our emergency contact information.

What are some resources you might know of that can help protect the physical and psychological well-being of autistic people, and how can one access them?

Of course, the Organization of Autism Research is an excellent resource (researchautism.org). I’m a huge fan of The Arc (thearc.org) and Easterseals (easterseals.com). I believe there’s one in each state. There’s the Exceptional Family Members Program (militaryonesource.mil) for military families, and the Council of Parent Advocates (copaa.org) helps equip families to advocate for their loved ones. Every special education department in our school systems should have various resources for families. I’d also recommend families contact their local health departments and primary care physicians.

Finding a good provider can be daunting and overwhelming due to the many available options. Joining support groups is a great way to meet people, learn about local resources, and gain firsthand information.

Regarding psychological health, a great start would be asking primary care physicians and also support groups. Many therapists offer telehealth services, which allow individuals with autism to receive services in the comforts of home.

Tory Ridgeway is a fourth-year Aerospace Engineering major at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Tory was diagnosed with Autism at the age of four. He received early intervention services, special education, and related services throughout high school and graduated as a distinguished scholar. At the age of 14, he earned the highest rank in Scouting, Eagle Scout. Tory is a strong advocate for the Autism Community. As a public speaker, Tory uses his voice to educate, advocate, and inspire others. He considers himself a “beacon of hope” for others like him.

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