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Autism speaker embraced inner werewolf

Wolf Dunaway with Anthony Peets

Like the shape-shifting villain from childhood tales he has identified with for most of his life, Wolf Dunaway’s relationship with the werewolf has transformed through the years.

The 57-year-old IT specialist from Towson, Maryland, located just north of Baltimore, will today be sharing his perspectives as an adult living with autism at an event organised by Bermuda Autism and Support and Education as part of Autism Awareness Month.

His identification with the werewolf — which he saw in movies and read about in fairytales as a child — began out of self-loathing.

Raised by his grandparents, he said there was the insistence that his behaviour not deviate from the “prescribed normal”.

“The problem with that was that it made me hate my real self,” Mr Dunaway said.

“The werewolf — the autistic side of myself, the elements that make me an autistic person — I was always told these are the bad things. You can’t be these things.”

He shared the same desire as the werewolf — longing to belong.

“I learnt that the only way to get by was to hide in plain sight, just like the werewolf,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”

That hiding had a detrimental impact.

“For a long time, I hated myself — a lot. I wanted to be normal, because that was held out as the only true path.”

It wasn’t until he was in his late 30s that he had what he likened to a midlife crisis.

He decided: “I’m not going to be normal anymore. And I’m not going to try. I’m just going to be myself and if you don’t like it, that’s tough.

“I learnt to embrace the werewolf. I’m proud of who I am now. And I’m at peace with who I am.”

His biggest fear today, he said, is based on the fears of others.

“So many parents are in denial,” he said. “So many parents are afraid of autism. So many parents are well-meaning, but because they are afraid they teach their children fear. And you can’t live in fear with autism — you have to be brave.

“The only time I grow, is when I do the things I am most afraid of. Every time you push beyond your comfort zones, it gets easier the next time.”

Anthony Peets, president of Base, said that the organisation was having a positive impact within the community.

“Every week I get a mom and dad that says because of what you do, I’m now brave enough to at least ask a question,” he said.

The key, he said, was helping everyone find the means and mode by with which to communicate.

“Every mind you take a look at is a brilliant mind,” Mr Peets said.

More autism-related training is needed, including for teachers and police officers, he said.

Mr Dunaway said the organisation helped those with autism to develop the tools and perspectives — as well as the personal contacts — to help “build a successful life”.

“Growing up, I wish very much I had the kind of infrastructure and support that they offer.”

The three-hour event takes place at Prospect Primary beginning at 9am. For more information, contact 505-9147 or basebda@yahoo.com