It is not enough for people to be aware that different abilities exist. Different abilities must be accepted and even celebrated as parts of who we are, no different than our height, weight, or hair color. We want to be seen as people first, but we also want our differences to be honored as part of who we are. We are human beings who just happen to have different abilities.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Levin, author of “In The Hole.”
Ben Levin is an autistic teenage who has been in love with stories ever since he was a little boy. “Stories constantly pop into my mind like magic and I feel a need to share them with other kids,” says Ben.
The published author of the multiple-book series, “Nellie’s Friends” written for grammar school readers, Ben also authored “Ollie and The Race” for early readers.
His breakout novel, “In The Hole” (Jumpmaster Press, Fall 2021) gives hope and inspiration to young adults and their families who face homelessness and economic insecurities during this challenge time. Ben’s greatest wish is to bring joy through his writing to kids all over the world.
Ben is proud to be autistic and is using his status as an author on the spectrum to serve as an example of how autism is not a setback, but a gift. He wants others on the autism spectrum to know that they are as capable of following their dreams as anyone else. “The label doesn’t matter,” says Ben. “We are capable of making our dreams come true too!”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was born five weeks early in a walk-in closet. My mom didn’t realize she was in labor, and then suddenly I came out, a foot tall and three pounds. I was tiny and my parents said I looked like et. It was not an easy day for my mother. That’s a funny story.
I’ve always loved stories. Since my dad read me books such as Dr. Suess and the Clifford books, they have been my life. My mom read me stories including, as I got older, Harry Potter. Reading Harry Potter inspired me to make a rewrite focused on Judaism (I’m Jewish) called Gabriel Garnet which my mom kept accidentally calling a book. That made me decide I should turn it into a book. Within the next year, I realized just how much I enjoyed writing and that it was what I wanted to do with my life.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding autism? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
I was four years old when I was diagnosed with autism. However, my parents didn’t want me living with what the public saw as a “disorder”, so they found a program which “cured autism”. We did the program and when I was done, I thought I was no longer autistic, something which both confused me and affected my self-esteem.
In 8th grade, after switching schools and realizing most people don’t think you can recover from autism, I became scared to tell people my story. So, I kept it a secret, something which felt liberating. However, in 11th grade, I realized keeping my past a secret was harming me. In February 2021, finally accepted that while the program had given me more social skills, it had not removed my autism, and that I should embrace my autism. Two months later, in April 2021, I shared my story on Instagram and I was stunned by how many kind and supportive messages I got in response. It was truly a weight lifted off my shoulders.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite being on the autism spectrum?
Actually, my accomplishments are largely because I’m autistic. Autism is not a setback — — it is an opportunity.
I have written somewhere around 150 stories and books; I self-published six and one, In the Hole, my first Young Adult novel, was published by Jumpmaster Press. I also have been told I’m good with interviews.
Autism gives me intense focus and the ability to shut out distractions. It also enables me to create endless stories and to be able to envision those stories from start to finish in my head. I think I’m good with interviews because of all the work on myself I have been encouraged to do because of my autism, especially by my parents. It made me more aware of myself and my process. So again, autism has empowered me, and it’s a gift.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?
Don’t see your disabilities as setbacks. They may be setbacks of what the world thinks of you, but they don’t define your actual abilities. Whether you have a different brain, or a different sense, or a different body, or a different identity, you should not be ashamed of your differences. The only way you can reach your full potential is if you embrace all of who you are.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
One person who really helped me is my mom. She was the one who brought The Son Rise Program® into my life and although that did not “remove my autism”, it did help me overcome a lot of my limitations, such as the way I tended to isolate myself from others, and my lack of social skills. That is all my mom wanted for me, a chance to live a full life, something everyone back then thought wasn’t possible for autistic people. Today, thankfully, that view is changing. We are also very close; I tell her almost everything. She has helped me by supporting my projects and by helping me edit and promote my writing, and I wouldn’t be where I am without her support, kindness, and wisdom.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I wrote In the Hole to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis, and I put a list of resources for people facing homelessness in the back of the book. I also had a book release event with national experts on the homelessness crisis, where I educated a lot of people about those issues. It was awesome.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with limitations” and why.
- We are just like everyone else, just with harder challenges. I think that if more people understood that, we would be accepted more often.
- Limitations is not the right word. Different abilities is a better term. Different abilities is more positive and doesn’t increase stigmatizing.
- We are capable of leading full complete lives. It is our belief in ourselves and others belief in us that makes us reach our full potential.
- Just like everyone, we all have our own special gift or way we bring light to the world. We need more people to recognize our gifts in order for us to use them for good.
- It is not enough for people to be aware that different abilities exist. Different abilities must be accepted and even celebrated as parts of who we are, no different than our height, weight, or hair color. We want to be seen as people first, but we also want our differences to be honored as part of who we are. We are human beings who just happen to have different abilities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I’m not sure if this counts because it’s my own, LOL, but a phrase that means a lot to me is “Redemption does not mean denying who you are”. I personally felt a need for redemption as a result of my childhood experiences; I discovered only this year that my redemption was to be found in embracing myself as a whole person, including and especially my autism.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights!