Josh Dushack describes himself as “an author who is on the road to success and to make a great living, as well as advocating autism.”
The 22-year-old, who plans to graduate from Seton Hill University in December, is a firm believer that there is no such thing as normal. “The truth is it’s okay to be different,” he said. “Different is what identifies who you are and proves life isn’t perfect. Because it’s not.”
On July 23, 2015, Josh Dushack became Facebook famous after an article he wrote was published on autismspeaks.org. In the article, he shared his personal journey as a person that lives on the autism spectrum.
The article was titled “They told my parents I wouldn’t talk; Now I’m graduating from college.”
Over 68,000 people liked Dushack’s article on the Autism Speaks Facebook page. It was also shared over 8,000 times and received over 800 comments. The article even crossed borders into other websites like Twitter and Google+.
Born in Fortuna, California, Dushack lived in many different states as a child before finding home in Youngwood, Pa. He was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at eight years old.
Dushack was sent to speech therapy and special education courses in elementary school, but it wasn’t until the age of twelve that he remembered feeling different.
“That’s when I started thinking about why I was the way I was and nobody else would be,” he said. Up until that point, he didn’t know there was anything abnormal about his behaviors and routines.
“I didn’t know that ‘normal’ children didn’t repeat lines from television. I didn’t know they wouldn’t watch the same movie over-and-over or repeat the same thing over-and-over,” said Dushack.
“I thought I was just being a kid having fun, just not with other kids,” he said. In high school, he found the differences between himself and his peers were more noticeable. While his peers goofed off in class and talked to girls, Dushack often took walks around the halls as a way to relax and curb anxiety.
Dushack’s mother always encouraged him to pursue his goals regardless of what doctors had told her years before. “She basically just treated me like a ‘normal’ child with discipline and love,” said Dushack.
Today Dushack uses therapy to cope with his anxiety issues. “It helped me feel more at peace with myself and get to know myself even more,” said Dushack.
He also receives financial and vocational help through the Pennsylvania OVR (Office of Vocational Rehab). “Basically, they helped me understand what to do when finding a career and that help is there whenever I needed it. It makes me feel as if I’m not alone and that I do have support,” he said.
Dushack enjoys acting, singing, writing, exercising and meditating in his spare time. He also finds joy in communicating with others, especially in an effort to promote autism awareness.
“I enjoy interacting with the committee for Autism Speaks,” said Dushack, “I played the motivational speaker at the Autism Speaks banquet, which I will soon be doing again in the near future.”
He also participates as a mentor for children at an autism theatre class. There, he works with children ages seven to 18 and performs shows with them. “I chose this because it helps me relate to the other kids, as I myself am on the spectrum,” said Dushack.
“Sometimes they didn’t need help at all because they are very intelligent students. I also like it because I love performing, which is natural for me as an aspiring actor,” said Dushack.
His message for other children that are learning to live with autism is to “express yourself.” “You don’t have to be perfect to fit in the right path,” said Dushack.
“It gets better as you get older,” said Dushack, “and the people that didn’t accept you then are going to think, ‘Why didn’t I ever become friends with that person?’ and they will regret calling you weird.”
To better understand people in our community on the spectrum, Dushack says, “Rather than just doing research, try asking those in person what it is like being on the spectrum, so that you can learn not just more about the person, but that you can get to experience it yourself.”
Dushack is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Performance at WCCC and hopes to attend grad school in the future. He also works summers at Kennywood and part-time at UPS in New Stanton.
Dushack is furthering his acting career by starring in an upcoming Christian comedy-drama play at the Living Word Congregational Church. “[It is] about a man named Steve (who I play) who, in spite of his success as a manager for a company who makes a decent amount of money and works really hard, is not very happy about his life,” said Dushack.
Dushack’s favorite quote is from Walt Disney. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” he said. “I hope to open doors in the future to make some great changes in the world in a positive way,” said Dushack. “I think just this interview and writing my blog was just the beginning.”