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For All Abilities

Nov 2, 2020

On this episode, we interview David Sharif about working with  autism. 


Betsy Furler  0:05   Welcome to for all abilities, the podcast. This is your host, Betsy Furler. The aim of this podcast is to highlight the amazing things people with ADHD, dyslexia, learning differences and autism are doing to improve our world. Have a listen to for all abilities, the podcast, and please subscribe on whatever podcast app you're listening to us on. Welcome back to for all abilities, the podcast. This is your host, Betsy Furler. And I'm so excited to be here again today talking to all of you, and another special guest. I'll introduce him in a minute. But I hope you all join us for an interesting conversation on autism, neuro diversity, and why we all need to value the differences of others as well as our own differences. So today, we have David Sheree with us and I probably mispronounced his name, but he's gonna tell us in a minute, he has autism and is a Autism Awareness advocate. And I'm really excited to hear about David's life story, and how autism has affected his life. So welcome, David.  David Sharif  1:19   Thank you for having me. Oh, and before anything, you perfectly pronounced my last name, so don't worry.  Betsy Furler  1:26   Oh, it's a miracle.  Unknown Speaker  1:27   Yeah.  Betsy Furler  1:29   So why don't you just introduce yourself to my audience?  David Sharif  1:33   Sure. So my name is David Sharif. I am a magnet come loud, a graduate of Pace University with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and Peace and Justice Studies. And I currently live in Ridgewood, New York.  Betsy Furler  1:47   Awesome. So usually we start the show by talking a little bit about what you were like as a little boy, and your diagnosis everywhere you remember it? I think I read you were diagnosed as around the age of four. Yeah, so you may or may not remember that. But anyway, tell us tell us your own words to tell us about that.  David Sharif  2:07   So yeah, I actually do remember my diagnosis. And I kind of noticed my behavioral challenges during my world travels, because I grew up in a family, where global citizenship and traveling the world is a huge passion. So what happened was my family and I were flying back to the United States from Pakistan, at the airport, and Islam about a security guard wanted to look into my suitcase. And I lashed out when that happened, but then my parents had to help me. And then they were able to tell the security, check the security guards that he that he is different. And then so that situation was handled. And then by the time we got back to Los Angeles, I was taken to the pediatrics to be evaluated. I had my early therapy sessions. And I was also a part of a youth group, where I really, really explored, I'd been where I explored the arts in various ways, before I got enrolled into a school that provides different supports for kids with learning differences from pre preschool, kindergarten to high school.  Betsy Furler  3:32   Awesome, and you obviously are a smart person. Because you graduated from college, and with honors and you did it in four years, correct? I did, which is not necessarily like, you know, people don't have to do that. But it is an accomplishment in like now it's definitely an accomplishment. So congratulations on that.  David Sharif  3:53   Thank you.  Betsy Furler  3:54   So what was what were you? What were your academic? and academics like early on? So like in elementary school? Did you struggle in school? Or did you always do pretty well?  David Sharif  4:06   So back in elementary school on the workload wasn't that tedious. Um, so during elementary school, we had something called spelling tests, they were a combination of short words, long words. And the spelling tests didn't matter about the words that we got, right? It's really about learning how we spell them how we learn from mistakes. And, and even before I got into upper elementary school, we had separate reading groups based on the comprehension skills of other students. And then we were reading stories that we were familiar with and were not familiar with. We had to learn how to catch words that specified the main idea of a story. And then moving into around fifth or sixth grade. This was a really, really fun learning style. That I enjoyed very much. And it was visualizing and verbalizing, which is looking at an image using 12 different categories to picture the, what the image is representing. And also, we had to do the same thing with stories that were around four to five sentences. And really, really studying the essence of how you can comprehend a long story when you start to read longer books, and especially stories that are not going to be black and white. But even before fifth and sixth grade, my peers and I were very, very lucky to have had a teacher who really helped us improve our reading skills with analogies, synonyms, opposites. And he was so great because he helped everyone improve their reading skills. And we even learned how to catch verbs, nouns, adjectives, we had to mark do different markings on what we discovered and what we read. And we, and moving into the advancements of technology, we learned how to type properly on the keys with different sources that teach us how to type sentences. And then without looking at big computers, we had alpha smarts that have the keys in the same spot. And that's how we practiced our typing to see if we made errors if we didn't make errors. This is really all about discovering the way we learn how we are different. And sometimes the challenge of it is, there are students who are more advanced than other ones. There are students who have a who are following the criteria greatly. Students who have really, really kept up with the needed criteria to move forward to further education. And sometimes there is a lot of argument between students about that. I had been in that situation before. And and it was certainly not fun at all.  Betsy Furler  7:14   I love the visualizing and verbalizing idea. And I'm a speech pathologist by training. I don't know if I told you that earlier. Um, so that is so interesting. I love it when I hear people's stories about great things that happened to them in school. And clearly that made a huge impact on you and probably helped you all the way through college. Oh, yeah.  David Sharif  7:37   Well, I actually wanted to bring up to the point was, after elementary school, the administration told me that I would not graduate high school. So then in my first year of middle school, I was not on the deployment track. In the school that I went to, there are three different tracks. The diploma track is the advanced track where your learning styles are right at the expectations and you can go to any college you wish to go do so and then from diploma track, there is the certificate track where you are doing work that is kind of too easy, you're not really challenged the way you expect yourself to be. And depending on how your learning styles go, you can potentially take some college courses and classroom settings at community colleges, but not at universities. And the lowest one of the mall is this other certificate program where you really have not improved your learning styles far enough into the point that, okay, this is not going to go well for you. And then after your high school years are done, you're going to go into some different kind of training program that will prepare you for things that may be easier for you. And how it works is if you are not on the diploma track, like I said earlier, that you are not eligible to apply to colleges. Without a doubt you are not eligible to apply to universities, or even schools that are nationally recognized as the top or best ones.  Unknown Speaker  9:16   Wow. So you found this out in middle school?  David Sharif  9:18   Yes, I did. So in seventh grade, I really didn't care about not being on the diploma track because I was actually too busy with preparing for my bar mitzvah. But then when my brother went to college in New York City, I got very, very upset about it because I was going to be humble alone and I had nobody to mess around with. So and so in eighth grade. I started in in the certificate track of the middle of eighth grade and so my parents advocated for me to proceed to the diplomat track. So in the middle of eighth grade, I went to the diploma track and I was succeeding very well in it and then when I got it into high school, I was placed in the deployment track what I wanted and expected. But then there were multiple meetings with my parents, the teachers and the principals about my learning progress, how I was doing and the strategies that are going to be needed for me to stay in the program and to pass my classes successfully. And I am very, very proud to say that all throughout high school, I had made the aorta row five times and the A and B are in a row three times.  Betsy Furler  10:31   That's amazing. And, you know, what also is amazing is that I'm so thankful you had the parents that you did, who helped you advocate for that. And you think about the kids who have autism, who don't have parents who are able to advocate for them or don't know that they should, and don't person confidence in their children. And you know, what they miss out on and with their education?  David Sharif  11:00   Well, I really, really do want to bring something out onto this point that I have been around kids who were who did not respect me or did not like me because of my academic success, and that I was doing better than them. This is not school related. But I was also miss treated for finding a home away from home, which is a summer camp that I went to the Poconos, which I also called my imaginary Where's wizarding school, I am a huge Harry Potter fan. And I have memories of watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone every weekend when I was like four or five years old, when my family got the video that but going back into high school, it was very serious because my reading comprehension skills were not that great. But they weren't in English class. But in history class, they were pretty decent because I did enjoy history. And with all the traveling I've done in my years, it was easy to recognize that I was very good with mathematics or and I did decent in science as well. And the other thing that I got mistreated about was the fact that I mentioned I live in a family that loves to travel the world, I have been traveling the world since I was two months old every summer every winter, I was also mistreated. For all the traveling I'd done. This is a very, very huge thing that I will say. I was bullied by a group of twin brothers and some of their supporters. They told me that I should not go to college in New York City, and that it would never amount to anything for me. But what did I do? I took their pessimistic feelings. I used them what they told me and I took my inspirational attachments to become a magnet can lead a graduate of a prestigious university.  Betsy Furler  13:06   That's amazing. And I I think that's the best revenge for bullies. Oh, yes, they're doing it's succeeding at the thing that that they're trying to tell you that you can't do. And I do think that bullying often comes out of jealousy. Rather than  Unknown Speaker  13:27   Yes,  Betsy Furler  13:29   the tribe thinking that someone really is less than them. Usually they think you're more than they are. And that's what they don't like.  David Sharif  13:36   Well, yeah, and, and I never and sometimes it's hard to really reveal that and I really tried to be as private as I can. And usually in my locker I have printed pictures of me with my friends from summer camp, and what they have done for me to support me and how they have been a part of my autism journey. And also pick pictures from New York City because New York City is considered to be my dream city. And I fell in love with it when I first went there and when I walked into my grandparents his apartment, just looking at the gorgeous views of the city lights and all the vehicles and I did that every morning while my family was sleeping. And another thing that kind of relates to the bullying was I also got bossed around by another person I'll senior year because this person was going to go to a community college and I did not choose to do that I wanted to blaze a new trail which was to go to a university and I kind of do I kind of meant to be boastful about this but I do want to mention this because it is true. And I do keep it as a fresh memory. I graduated high school as valedictorian and I am the first student from my school. To go to a university in New York City and the other side of the country, and I never noticed that until the end of my journey, and, and despite being told that I was going to be valedictorian. Before my last semester of high school, I had to focus on getting good grades and maintaining them, and even to remain admitted into peace University where I went to and the first school that admitted me,  Betsy Furler  15:30   that's amazing. And were you the first person with autism to be valedictorian at your high school? Do you have any idea?  David Sharif  15:36   Oh, no, no, no, it's like, more than 80 or 90% of our students are on the autism spectrum and learning differences. And also, like I mentioned before, the school I went to is a multidisciplinary special needs school. So every class or almost every graduating class had a valedictorian on the autism spectrum. So that part does not correlate to anything.  Betsy Furler  16:06   So one, one thing about autism that I have noticed since I've started doing this podcast, actually, and because I love people with autism, and how people with autism think I think it is such a gift to our world. And to have people to Brett whose brains work in such a unique, different and interesting way. And what but one thing that I hadn't really realized until I started doing this podcast is when I have guests with autism on my show. I know everyone with autism is different, right? But the one thing that I have found that is very consistent is that guests with autism, make their appointments really fast, keep their appointments, and are always on time for their appointments with me. So I appreciate that so much. And I think that also probably really served you well in school because you did that as well. As soon as we discussed you being on the podcast, you immediately booked. And here we are today. And I think those skills are really great skills academically and possibly in the work world, which we'll get to in a minute. But I love to hear about college, what your college experience was like, and what your social life was like at college, and how you use your unique brain to succeed at college. Sure,  David Sharif  17:33   so I went to college at Pace University in New York City on the New York City Campus. During my college career, I received comprehensive support with the Oasis program. The Oasis Program is a program that helps students with learning differences, navigate college life and prepare for the real world of work. I was a part of that program. All my years of college, I had an academic coach that I met with at least once an hour, four times a week, I had extended time on exams, I was not allowed to use notes on the exams, unless if the professor allowed it, which was different. And there were some classes that I had been in with that before. My academic coach would help me prepare for exams, get by presentations ready to make sure that I have that I am ready to present and talk on stage. And also would help me with my draft papers on a Google Drive and to make sure that my citations are accurate because it is without a doubt required on almost every single paper because we're using sources that are not considered to be our own and we have to credit Um, so another thing that I very much liked about my college career was I participated in an employment readiness workshop that is reserved for upper sophomores or seniors in the Oasis program. It could be for juniors and seniors right now I'm not entirely sure about that. In our work readiness program, we are trained by our career slash internship counselor, along with employment skills coordinators from another nonprofit that I actually work for right now. We have 12 weeks of the workshop, where we learn about communication in the workplace, how to behave in the workplace, drafting resumes, writing cover letters, mock interviews, which are considered to be practice interviews that help us prepare for the real one. And also to understand what our goals are and ambitions are when we enter the real world of work. And the goal of that is for every student in the Oasis program to have an internship or to be interning at any company before they graduate college. And I have had the privilege of doing administrative work as an intern for my grandfather's company, partners for progressive Israel.  Betsy Furler  20:21   Ah, that's amazing. So, your college sounds like they did an amazing job or preparing you for the workforce.  David Sharif  20:28   Yes. And and another thing that I would love to bring out and that I missed most about college was I traveled abroad five times during my college career. So my first adventure was a January term course, that on ecosystems and biodiversity, I studied that at Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Quito, Ecuador. And I went to the Galapagos. And this course was administered by a by an instructor with scuba diving experience and also trained with biology from the United Kingdom. And the study abroad program was administered by the American Institute for Foreign Studies, which is a study abroad organization that provides day trips, excursions and cultural activities, I support the organization 100%. So then, after my January term abroad in Ecuador, I went abroad with the same organization to Barcelona, Spain, in the fall semester of my junior year, where I studied global politics, and euro Mediterranean Relations at a large public university in Barcelona. And then I did the same thing in my senior year of college, the January term in Berlin, Germany, studying the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and anti semitism, which was a pretty emotional one. Because knowing that Judaism is my religion, it's very hard for me to control my emotions at these places, sometimes one of my favorite colleges, and one of my favorite college courses, in being a political science major was Model United Nations Model United Nations takes you beyond the classroom. It's like you write a position paper, that is very short, you are given a country that you have to represent like every institution has on but you can choose the UN committee that you think you can work your best in. And that is how it usually happens. Sometimes we get our top choices, sometimes we get our second choices. And we attend the national Model United Nations Conference in New York City during the spring semester. That is considered to be the pinnacle Model United Nations Conference in America because it is the biggest one out of the mall with more than 4000 delegates from all over the world. And there are two separate conferences. Every fall semester, our Model UN team travels to Washington DC, which I never took in the fall semester. So I got to take Model UN three times, I did two conferences in New York City. I applied and was accepted to attend an international one. So when I took Model UN for my last and third time, I attended a conference in Rome, Italy, where I represented the People's Republic of China in the Economic and Social Council, but even expanding the studies of the United Nations. Right before my senior year began, I participated in a United Nations program in Geneva, Switzerland, where I got to go to the UN headquarters in Geneva, visit other UN agencies, the Red Cross Museum, how the United Nations was established after World War Two, and what and how it has really enhanced global communication. And what's so great about bottle United Nations, my top three favorite things are traveling the world, building friendships, and studying how political and global organizations practice their negotiation. We've learned to draft working papers that are written in un language and it's much different than just writing a regular English paper. And with the people that come from all over the world, it's a chance to build friendships and to have some time with the people you're going to see not knowing when you may even see them again, and with the traveling that you are doing, which could be budgeted by your school, it's a great opportunity because you have a bit of time to, you know, go sightseeing or attend in evening activity and you are just accommodated so well. And then there's a bit of a celebration that happens. And you are recognized for all the accomplishments that you do in Model UN awards are given now, but when I think about Model UN awards is not really on my mind, because I like to focus on the general aspect of it, that just makes it so fun. Because putting your mind on awards just really doesn't help you control yourself when you want to have a good con, a good experience at the conference. So what I really, really miss the most about Model UN is the traveling, the studies of global communication, and the friendships you make, it's just a phenomenal thing that can happen. And I just really am grateful for participating in it. And I was advised from some of my peers to take it. And it was so much fun in so many ways. And that is always going to be something I miss, I'd miss all of the traveling that I did during my college life. That was like the biggest accomplishment that I would never forget. And I am so grateful. For even the friends I have made a different institutions around the United States and feeling impacted by my social economic background and my religious background, I have very much learned how to be mindful about other perspectives and to understand that one perspective is never wrong, and how to be open to it, and how to really control your emotions, and discipline your mind when you are surrounded by things that can affect the way you think and the way you feel when you see those things.  Betsy Furler  27:10   That's incredible. My one regret from college is not going not traveling abroad at all. And I also went to a college that had a jam term program. So for our listeners who don't know what we're talking about these schools have you take one class or go on a trip, you know, educational travel, and event in the month of January, and then the spring semester starts in February. And it's such a great opportunity to travel. And I did not take that in college and I regret it if your experiences sound amazing. So why don't you tell us a little bit about what you're doing for work these days. And and then you know, let us say, let us know anything else. And then we'll wrap up with some contact information for you.  David Sharif  28:00   Sure. So at the moment, I am working for the employment and business services department of a large nonprofit called HRC. I coached neurodiverse adults in building and fulfilling lives. I have been working for that company since February. At the moment we are working virtually. But we are doing an action plan to getting back to community based stuff. But that's going to be done very slowly. Throughout my six or seven months with the job, kind of excluding the furlough that I had, when COVID stroke. I had been shadowing my colleagues, I had been using that time to learn about the people I am supporting, observing how I'm getting along with them. There's some I work well with there are some that I struggled to work well with. And moving on to the job right now I'm going to be starting to learn how to lead activities, and how that can be done. Now that I have felt more comfortable with the work and how it is usually done. But before COVID head, we go out in the community, and do community based organizations where we help elders receive good meals. I can observe the talents of the people I am supporting the goals they want to accomplish before they get out in the real world. And what is really fun about this job is you're not just sitting in an office recording numbers or data on a computer, you're going out of the building, to not just explore the city, but to learn about the people you're supporting and seeing what skills they can bring out there. But we're not really doing that right now. So we are like trying to get in contact with some organizations that We have done community based stuff with. And we are virtually doing some home workouts, fitness stuff. And usually by ourselves, we'd like to lead entertaining games like Jeopardy Family Feud Wheel of Fortune, or even create little word games, like I'm potentially thinking about leading Mad Libs, which is a really hysterical game that I enjoyed back very far when I started learning that I was about nine or 10 years old. So that so that's kind of what I am doing right now. And even before COVID hit, I have taken a date, like little day trips to disability rights conferences in the state of New York. So one day, in the end of February, I took a day trip to all buddy with some of the people I support and colleagues, we went to a disability rights conference in the main conference room up in Albany, and like the main office locations, where I kind of introduced myself listen to my adults, and understand the struggles that they have faced and the changes that want to happen. I did something similar to that at another event down in Coney Island. And it was very, very fun, because we got to listen to other organizations that have similar targets to us. And even to other family members who have children who are on the spectrum and are clarifying how they are gifted to be out there in the real world, what they can offer and how their memory banks really play a huge role and how they can be different and how they can recall anything with all the details that some people may often forget. And, you know, that is part of what we do. And that's our job. It's not an easy job. But I enjoyed because I have fun with it. This is a great organization that I work for. And I have been connected with this company, a apparently during my college career, and this company has a similar relationship to Pace University, the school that I went to, and the office that I work for right now has done community based stuff with Pace University. So that's kind of what led me to apply to this job. And, you know, kind of seeing if I was a good fit, I had to go through two interviews, which was meeting with my current supervisor discussing the day to day responsibilities, knowing what I would have to do on doing a regular interview. And then the second interview round was meeting my colleagues and then listening to the experiences of the people that I will be supporting and getting an idea of who they are as well. And it's been a really, really fun job. And I am enjoying just every moment of it. And now I'm kind of going on to a new phase where I'm going to be leading start leading activities after shadowing colleagues and seeing how they lead groups for like, five to six months now.  Betsy Furler  33:16   That sounds incredible. It sounds like a great fit for you, someplace where you can really give back, but also earn a living, which is always which is always needed. Right?  David Sharif  33:28   Mm hmm.  Betsy Furler  33:29   Well, David, is there anybody in particular that has inspired you or kind of is your personal hero that you want to tell us about?