March 18th, 2019
Autism in the Wilderness: Alumni Student reflects on her Diagnosis, Growth, and Future
Megan W. | Alumni Student
Meghan came to Open Sky in the fall of 2018 struggling with communication, interpersonal skills, and other challenges. These challenges kept her from progressing in her student teaching program and thriving in life. Below, Meghan reflects on what brought her to Open Sky, the diagnosis that changed her life, and the support she received from her peers and therapist, Chris Blankenship. Read on to be inspired by Meghan’s story and the future that lies ahead of her.
Open Sky honestly changed my life. When I first arrived, I had lost most of my self-confidence. I did not believe that I could do anything. I did not have to believe in myself because my group did. Then I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and I felt like I had found a missing part of myself, but I still struggled to grasp it. I actually asked Chris if “he was joking.” I did not believe him.
My team supported me every step of the way. When I relapsed they were there to pick me up. They were really there for me during this pivotal point in my life. When I did not know who I was, they did and they were always there to support me and comfort me. I have made friends for life at Open Sky. I would trust all of them with my life.
Being diagnosed at Open Sky was really one of the best things that could happen to me. I got to write to my parents about Autism and I got to talk to Chris and my group about my strengths and weaknesses and how Autism personally affects me and my personality.
My Autism mostly affects me in communication. When I first came, I had been dismissed from my college for a lack of interpersonal skills and I did not know why I had always struggled with communication. Chris helped me discover who I am and taught me how to be the best version of me. He specifically taught me eye contact and conversation skills. He related everything he taught me to my field of study: education. He showed me how each skill can be used in an elementary classroom and had me practice each skill.
Wilderness therapy really is amazing. I had personal goals every week that helped make me who I am today. I was able to openly share my feelings with others who were struggling with other issues. They supported me and I supported them, and we became a family.
Chris is honestly amazing. I have never been a huge fan of therapy, but Chris was so easy to open up to. From the moment I met him—the day after arriving in the wilderness in Utah—I trusted him and I still do. He pushed me emotionally and I grew further than I ever thought I could. I was able to try and test different communication methods in a safe environment.
I think my favorite days were “layover days”. We really bonded during these times we would talk to each other and share what we were all thinking about. A week before my student mentor graduated, we each had an hour to run whatever activities we wanted to do and just hang out together. I did arts and crafts and my mentor did rock collecting and another one of our team members gave us free time and wood shop/harvesting. It was amazing! I was there for Christmas and Thanksgiving which I thought would be difficult, but we really did help each other get through it. We wrote raps about Open Sky and performed them in front of everyone for the talent shows. We had so much fun planning our act and messing around freestyling. It was a blast.
Open Sky did not change who I am but taught me who I truly am and who I can be. I left a confident young adult who felt like she could conquer the world and overcome anything. I am now back at college. Next semester, I am going to student teach and get my teaching degree. The following year I plan to get my master’s in special education and help teach students like me. Open Sky prepared me for life and I’m living mine to the fullest.