My Name is Russell Lehmann

I have come a long, long way in life. When I was 12, at the height of my distress, I was pretty much non-verbal. I was too afraid of the outside world to speak to anyone other than my parents. I stayed inside my house as much as possible, clinging to my parents’ sides, terrified of any external stimuli, such as the doorbell ringing, the TV being on, or the microwave going off. I was a prisoner inside my own body. I would have multiple meltdowns every day, curling into a ball in the corner of a room, just crying for hours. I was extremely low-functioning, and could barely take care of myself.

Now, however, I’m a successful, confident man who travels the country spreading a message of hope, awareness, understanding and acceptance about autism and other disabilities.

I happen to not only have autism, but anxiety, depression, OCD and a previous battle with anorexia.

I am a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, I sit on the board for the Autism Coalition of Nevada, am the Youth Ambassador for the mayor of Reno, Nevada, am affiliated with the renowned Kulture City organization which spreads awareness and acceptance about autism, and have written a book that earned an honorable mention at the NY Book Festival. I also happen to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).

As I mentioned before, the amount of personal growth I have experienced has been astronomical. The catalyst behind this growth is not due to some secret pill or “cure”, but rather due to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Every single day I take every chance I can to push my mental abilities to the test, whether it be pushing myself to the limit at the gym, initiating a conversation with a stranger, placing myself in the middle of a loud crowd in order to expand my sensory processing capabilities, or just simply making full eye contact with an individual I’m talking to.

I do this not only to further grow and develop into the best person I can be, but to also conquer the remaining demons that I do still deal with. It is this drive that keeps my symptoms in check. If I were to stay inside my comfort zone, and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would eventually regress back to where I was when I was 12: a low-functioning individual with autism who is pretty much non-verbal.

My progress in life may seem like a miracle on the surface, however everybody and anybody can attain this type of personal development. With regards to individuals on the spectrum, we can conquer our disability and turn it into an extraordinary ability. I like to say that autism is a gift, you just have to figure out how to open it first.

My advice? Run towards, and not away, from your fears. Fear, firstly and foremost, is nothing more than opportunity disguised as risk. Behind every single fear in your life is a wondrous reward that you will only attain if you push through what frightens you. It is a fact that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, your chance for personal growth increases exponentially.
Failure is another factor of life that we all need to embrace. If we were to never fail, we would never know what we need to improve upon, and we would never be aware of what we are truly capable of. When there is a chance you may fail at something, you either succeed or you learn. There is no losing when it comes to failure. Think of failure as a trampoline: You are going to fall, but you will bounce back better because of it!

I chose to become a self-advocate and speaker in order to help others not have to go through the unnecessary pains and struggles I’ve been put through. I take pride in being a voice for the unheard, for I know how frustrating and challenging it is to go unnoticed. I’m honored and humbled to be able to give hope to families and parents who are concerned with their child’s future, just as my parents once were.

I have a raging fire within me to help others succeed no matter what obstacles or hardships they may be faced with. I sincerely hope this article aids in this all-important endeavor of mine.

Moving Beyond Fear to Support Your Child on the Autism Spectrum


I increasingly feel as though I’m backed into a corner (a spot that is usually a safe place for me), but in this corner there is a subtle yet deafening voice issuing a profound ultimatum:

“Be safe and stagnate, or take risks and flourish.”

Each time I hear this voice, a fire ignites within me as I stand up in the corner, back against the wall, and remember a quote that has been the continuous theme of my 27 year-long journey: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”

I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to all corners of the country sharing my story, insights gained and lessons learned, and I make sure every audience I speak in front of takes one message home with them: I believe the heaviest burdens in life are only put upon the shoulders of those strong enough to carry them. The lesson for me here is clear: If I were to stay inside my comfort zone and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would not be able to touch a single life with my message of hope, inspiration and acceptance.

Being a motivational speaker, I travel a lot, and I have recently developed PTSD when it comes to airports after I experienced a horrendous meltdown in June of last year at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Although this experience went viral after I wrote about it on Facebook, the mental and physical repercussions of this traumatic incident have been immense. Meltdowns are already exhausting. Public meltdowns? Downright agonizing.

Few people understand the torment and anguish that lies behind the word “meltdown.” Tears, hyperventilation, screams, adrenaline rush, intrusive thoughts, vulnerability, sometimes even vocal tics and convulsions. In five out of the last 11 trips to the airport, I have been met with intense anxiety, prolonged panic attacks, distressing meltdowns, severe depression and invasive bouts of OCD, resulting in me pacing back and forth in the airport, sobbing uncontrollably, twitching and rubbing my hands together, all the while feeling like my brain is in a vise grip that has been set on fire. On top of this, I am always met with two extremes from the people around me: stares of curiosity or purposeful avoidance. I am either on exhibit or completely invisible, and to be honest I don’t know which one is worse.

Throughout all of this, I have somehow managed to board my plane each and every time, sometimes assisted by my mother and/or airline employees and have subsequently given a heck of a speech to boot.

So the question remains: Should your concerns for your child limit their pursuit of a fulfilling life?

My answer? No.

Without a doubt each episode of panic or sensory overload I experience takes a toll on my mental and physical well-being, but I have found that through strife and struggle we can discover our individual purpose, and come to understand why we are here.

I’ll refer you to this famous African proverb: A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

The purpose of this article is to inform you. After all, knowledge is one of the few things that can be given to you but never taken away. Having said that, you are the parent. You know what’s best for your child. When you trust your parental instincts above all else, while also compassionately pushing your child to take risks, letting them know you will be there to catch them when they fall, I believe you will be amazed to discover your child’s continuous growth of self-confidence, ambition and insight.

Parents of those on the spectrum often second-guess themselves and may regret certain decisions they made for their child. I know my mother did, but let me tell you, she has been the absolute perfect mother for a son with my struggles and circumstances. I believe when you do something out of love, you can never go wrong.

Russell Lehmann Autism Research

March 3, 2019 via Instagram @BiteSizeAutism

Research with 70 Taiwanese autistic adults found that sensory avoiding was associated with greater loneliness and anxiety. The relationship between sensory avoiding and higher anxiety was moderated by loneliness - this means that loneliness is key to sensory avoiding and anxiety being related. How do the results fit with your experience? Comment below!

READ MORE:
Syu, Y. C., & Lin, L. Y. (2018). Sensory Overresponsivity, Loneliness, and Anxiety in Taiwanese Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Occupational therapy international, 2018.

Autistic child handcuffed to chair at Louisiana elementary school

By: Bria Jones

www.easttexasmatters.com

WINNSBORO, La.  (KTVE)- A 9-year-old special needs student named Zykayden was handcuffed to a chair at Winnsboro Elementary School.

His mother, Shrena Henderson, was heading to Monroe when she got the call to come pick him up.

"I noticed he was in the classroom by himself four adults surrounding him and he doesn't have on shoes and he is foaming on the mouth," said Henderson.

It was the end result of an episode, Zykayden says, started after he didn't want to do his math work.

"I had started throwing stuff and writing on a table then they called the principal and the principal called the police," said Z. Henderson.

It's something his mother said never should have happened.

"You handcuff my kid to a chair," said an upset Henderson who wants her questions answered. "What was logical about that?"

NBC10/Fox14 reached out to the principal at Winnsboro Elementary School, he directed us to the Franklin Parish School Superintendent Lanny Johnson. When we called his office, we were told he was out sick for the day. While filming video of the school, a police officer came and told us the school called and requested we leave the property.

According to the school's documents, Zykayden tried to headbutt and hit teachers.  At that point, Winnsboro Police Chief Willie Pierce said his officer took the appropriate actions, despite the department not having a policy for handling special needs students.

"If we stand back and watch that child continue to do what he is doing, someone is going to get injured. We are here to prevent anyone from being injured him being placed in handcuffs did not hurt that child," said Pierce.

Henderson said her child is traumatized and accommodations should be made for kids with disabilities. Henderson said Zykaden was suspended for five days and she is now planning to homeschool him.

She has a pending case against the Winnsboro Police Department and believes this was an act of retaliation.

However, Chief Pierce said that is untrue.