Henna Laulainen, 27, lives in Espoo, Finland. She is an advocate for people with disabilities. At age 10, she began communicating by typing and was one of the first people with autism in Finland to communicate by typing. She completed her studies at Keskuspuisto Vocational College where she learned craftwork such as felting and weaving rugs, ryas and table cloths. Henna has talked about autism and communication at many different venues including teacher training courses, conferences on autism and children's hospitals. She has also made a training DVD with the city of Espoo, Finland about meeting the challenges associated with disabilities, and how to make everyday life easier. Her paintings were recently exhibited in a show in Finland.
I am a 22-year-old Finn. I have a brother named Toni. We live fairly close to each other. I live in a group home in Hirvisuo. I like living in the group home. There are really cool tutors.
I used to live at home with my mother. Living at home is not independent living. While still at school I decided that I wanted to be independent like all young people. I took a training course in Mankkaa. From there I moved to Keskuspuisto Vocational Institute’s autism unit in Malmi, and then to Vateko to be trained in the textile sector. Now I attend the Autism Foundation Centre in Käpylä. I have a personal helper, Marko.
It is hard to live with autism. It makes everyday life difficult. I need helpers to explain things to me. Life can be extremely difficult for someone with autism. New situations and new people present challenges that must be overcome.
My life is now much easier than it was earlier. My mother and other people important to me have helped me cope with situations and life. I no longer need as much support as I did when I was a child, for example. Today, I enjoy the hugs that I couldn’t take while I was still a child. My life is happy and I have people who help and love me. Today, it is even nice to come into contact with strangers.
I want to tell you that people with autism want just the same things as all other young people. To study and find paid employment. We want the option of living as independently as possible. I am sure that you understand what I mean.
Written communication has opened a new world for me. I can describe how I feel. I can think things over in a way I could not do otherwise. If I could not write I would have to think over things in my head alone. Now I can express my thoughts and hopes. We have travelled a long road to the point where I can write well. You can well imagine that this required a lot of work. From time to time I have wept and written, sweated and almost lost hope. Luckily my mother had enough faith in my abilities, and Sinikka, too.
I would like to get a job and earn a living like others do. Getting a job can be really difficult. But we must hope for the best.
I hope that you and people in general will believe in those of us who are autistic. Writing is my speech and the thing you need to understand. Those of us who are autistic have the same kinds of feelings as all you others have. Although we may behave oddly, we are really not oddities.
- Henna Laulainen
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