Since she was a small child, Battle Ground resident Angela Perkins knew she had some emotional and social problems. Although she was smart and got some of the best grades in her classes, Perkins said she never seemed to do well socially and struggled to find a place to fit in.
When she was 14, Perkins, now 17, decided to see a counselor because she had been feeling upset and although she didn’t know what it was, she knew something was wrong.
"I was so surprised when the counselor suggested autism," Perkins said. "I knew I had problems, but I just never thought of it being anything like autism."
Perkins was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a generally high-functioning form of autism. Most people with autism are diagnosed at a fairly young age and Perkins said the counselor she talked to found it interesting that none of her teachers ever suspected autism when she was having problems at school. Instead of letting her diagnosis get her down, however, Perkins decided to make the experience into something positive.
Perkins has been a member of the Girl Scouts since she was a young girl and is currently a member of Troop No. 40926. In order to achieve her Girl Scout Gold Award, Perkins had to come up with a project and she decided her project would involve informing people about the Autism Spectrum. In order to do this, Perkins did research and put together a brochure all about the Autism Spectrum. She also organized and hosted two informational workshops.
"I needed to do a project to get my Gold Award and I just figured I would choose autism since it was something I had to deal with," Perkins said. "Most people don’t know that much about autism."
Her project, entitled Autism is NOT an Automobile, included two workshops which were designed to help give people an understanding of what autism is, the symptoms and how to help and understand people on the Autism Spectrum. The workshops also discussed other conditions on the Autism Spectrum, such as Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Each workshop included speakers on autism, a short play written by Perkins to illustrate the Autism Spectrum and a one-hour movie called On the Spectrum.
The brochure Perkins wrote and put together covered what autism is, Autism Spectrum disorders, symptoms, who is affected by autism and how to help people with an autism disorder cope.
Perkins said she has pretty much experienced all of the symptoms of autism at some time in her life. These symptoms include difficulty with or lack of empathy, continuous repetitive mannerisms, difficulty managing social situations, slow to reach developmental milestones, sensory processing disorder, savant-like abilities and/or selective interests and being extremely shy or outgoing. Most of these symptoms vary depending on the person and the form of autism that they have.
Perkins said a lot of people don’t understand those who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She said many people with autism are often mistaken as being rude or unkind, and sometimes disruptive. Perkins said one of the main symptoms of autism that she suffers from is extreme shyness. However, she and Penny Sarvela, her Girl Scout adviser, said she has come a long way over the past few years.
"When Angela would want to say something in the group, you would see this little, timid hand come forward," Sarvela said. "Now she raises her hand all the way and is able to negotiate with the other girls if she doesn’t agree with something or would like to point out her opinion."
Sarvela said Perkins is no longer quiet and withdrawn when she’s with the Girl Scout troop and she is now involved and "part of the group." Perkins said she thinks the experience of being involved with the Girl Scouts has helped her, and being able to have people tell her when she does or says something wrong is also very helpful.
"Her social development has just been huge," Sarvela said. "She’s now able to state what she wants when she wants something and isn’t afraid of sharing her opinion."
Perkins said she enjoys reading, writing, drawing and her pet cats. She has been home schooled since she was a small child and currently does the home-school program through Battle Ground HomeLink. She said she likes to draw people and cats in her own unique drawing style and she enjoys writing stories about girls her age and their social interactions with each other. She also enjoys reading books on psychology.