Jordyn Zimmerman is the subject of the phenomenal new documentary This Is Not About Me. Her story is one example of the difficulties non-speaking autistic people endure when they aren’t given appropriate communication options—and also how they can blossom when communication becomes possible. We interviewed Jordyn via email to talk about themes from the new film, as well as her own experiences and hopes.
You can watch the This is Not About Me trailer, and rent the film, at thisisnotaboutme.film.
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism (TPGA): You are now pursuing a Master’s degree. Can you talk about why you chose this educational path, and your career goal?
Jordyn Zimmerman (JZ): As you see in the film, I had many experiences which made me who I am today. I want to change the system so students do not have the difficulties I faced with obtaining an education and/or accessing effective communication. I am also very passionate about every student exercising their right to a truly inclusive education.
TPGA: Can you talk about the work it takes to learn to communicate through AAC? (I ask because some people assume AAC is an instant miracle.)
JZ: Learning to communicate through AAC is not easy and there are no words that describe the complexity (and frustration) it entails. Initially, besides using it here and there, I was pretty resistant to the iPad. I did not want to hold it or carry it—however, once a strap was put on it and I began to wear the iPad, I became more excited about its use.
Still, it took a lot of practice before I transitioned from symbols to typing, and then typing complete sentences. When I really got the hang of it and was able to share so much about my body and what I was feeling, it was exhilarating and beautiful.
TPGA: Do you consider autistic traits like stimming to be good, bad, or neither? Can you talk about that?
JZ: I definitely do not consider stimming to be bad. It is simply a motion to generate a sensory response and/or to help soothe our bodies as we become accustomed to the environment we are in at that time. Sometimes, I become totally engrossed in my hands and make sounds with my mouth.
TPGA: How did running for exercise help you while you were a student at Mentor High School?
The repetitive motion and rhythm of running definitely helped to stimulate and regulate my body so I could handle more of the sensory input I was processing each day.
TPGA: Tell us about Buster, the large dog who makes an appearance in the film. What kind of a dog is he, and what was his role in supporting you?
JZ: Buster is a Cane Corso, which is an Italian breed of Mastiff. He was a trained service dog, who is now retired. Buster supported me throughout my day at school—providing deep pressure by physically laying his head or whole body on me, attending to me when I was upset, stopping me from running into traffic, and alerting staff when I needed help.
TPGA: You mentioned that people didn’t know what inclusion was when you started college. Can you explain what inclusion really means?
JZ: Inclusion means everyone participating together and feeling a sense of belonging. Successful inclusion isn’t about everyone doing the same thing or doing everything perfectly, but people share the same outcome—though, how they get there may be different. The entire community must collaborate and embrace this idea.
For Ohio University Sparkles [the inclusive cheer team Zimmerman founded], this meant forgetting about the “what ifs.” It did not mean Sparkles doing the same stunts as the OHIO Cheer team, but it meant doing stunts side-by-side and together. It meant adapting to different challenges and celebrating the strengths of everyone.
TPGA: What messages would you like to give to autistic students who don’t feel heard, or understand, or supported, as you once were not?
JZ: I was you and I see you.