How my autism influenced where I am today and a new viewpoint for disability benefits

As I was attending community college, I joined my first real band called Lust for Loonies. I played the drums for this band. I was still learning the drums at the time, but I got to start applying what I was learning. When I started writing my own songs on the piano in tandem with the curriculum I was getting and the feedback I was getting from the band’s songwriter, I transformed into an amazing drummer that helped shape the sound this band had. We were performing at the right places to be discovered in Hollywood at the House of Blues and B. B. King’s.

When this band fell apart, I was enrolled at University of California, Riverside in their music department. After being recruited to help a friend with his music project to perform one of his musical compositions, he turned this band into an old school rockabilly cover band playing Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Little Richard, and so on along with a few original compositions.

After this college band naturally fell apart upon our graduation, I have not been in a band since except for opportunities to play in jam bands. It was June 2011 when I graduated with my bachelors degree in music. By that time, I had enough of my own personal compositions on the piano to have my first album. No album materialized for a reason.

What happened?

I got a job while I was attending UCR working at Target stocking their store for their early morning shift. After my graduation, my relationship with my employer soured and deteriorated as I had to take in too much information what was going on in the workplace. To cope, I had to stim. The only thing that would soothe me was video games. Music would not do the trick because my mind would be somewhere else while I played. Video games were the only thing that could shut my mind up.

What was going on affected me so badly that it was affecting my ability to do job interviews to get away, so I turned to the Department of Rehabilitation. The DoR connected me with EXCEED, who then helped me get my job at Walgreens at their distribution center.

Even if I touched any of my instruments during my time being employed, I could not sustain it because my employer caused me to stim my life away. I didn’t get around to recording my album.

While I was distracted with having to stim so I can stop obsessing, a friend of mine and a fellow drummer from high school, Bret Lebow, was able to do what he had to do to become a touring drummer for the bands, Skyler Lutes and Everything SAID.

When you think I should be able to work a job at the same time and navigate the musician’s career to become a touring musician, the workplace and my autistic stim interfered with my ability to live my own life.

I do have an opportunity to get onto disability benefits from a letter I got in the mail last month from Social Security. I am going to try for it because I really need it just so I can focus on my musical aspirations without the disabling aspects of my autism while being employed and the distraction of needing to create an income. I am self employed, but income is too inconsistent.

The biggest problem of all is there are other people with autism just like me who are deemed too high functioning to be on disability benefits. On the other hand, such denial affects our personal lives. It is how I never recorded my first album while I was employed. Furthermore, the political stance that people who live off the government are lazy does no favors to understand the needs of persons with high functioning autism.

Yes, I am too high functioning to be living off the government, but it needs to be me who independently decides what I do for a living according to the first guiding principle of the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons

By getting onto disability benefits, benefits would be a means to an end so that I can build my own living where I will not have to be living off the government. I would be able to focus on songwriting, performing with bands, and transforming my musical life into my actual career. I would not be starting from scratch. I have an album worth of music ready to record. I will not have to rely upon bands for income when I know how to play the drums, bass guitar, piano, harmonica, and hand percussion along with other instruments I am learning. I am a one band band. I can create my own musical success in the new music industry that social media creates for songwriters while performing for other bands at the same time.

This is why I think we have the wrong stance on disability benefits. For someone like me, I will no longer have to put myself into an environment that will cause me to stim my life away, which is exactly what happened. Disability benefits would enable me and others to create the living that would get us off of disability benefits. When we are denied, we remain stuck in a disabling world. It would mean a world of difference when we are enabled instead of disabled.

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