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Hearing Sarah's words

Frederick High graduate cannot speak, but her writing tells her story

Story by FCPS Maryland Voices October 12th, 2016
“Education is a friend that stays with you forever.” — Sarah Stup, Frederick High graduate, Class of 2004

FREDERICK — This is our 13th FCPS Voices story since we unveiled the site in the spring.

Through this platform, we have met high school marching band drum majors, a devoted volunteer, inspiring FCPS graduates and even chef Bryan Voltaggio. In each case, we scheduled sit-down interviews and listened as these wonderful FCPS voices shared their uplifting stories.

We changed protocol this time. Frederick High graduate Sarah Stup does not speak, and yet we cannot think of a better FCPS Voice worth featuring. Stup has autism. In a way, autism has silenced her voice.

Instead of speaking, she communicates by writing. And through her words, she has a loud and proud voice.

After learning to communicate through typing, she attended Rock Creek School, Ballenger Creek Elementary, Ballenger Creek Middle and Frederick High. Sarah’s fourth grade special education teacher, Sharon West, encouraged her to keep a daily journal. And that’s how Sarah fell in love with writing. It’s become her vehicle for explaining how she experiences life, how people can befriend her and how they can make her feel welcome.

Sarah, a 2004 Frederick High graduate, is a published author. Her latest book, “Paul and his Beast,” follows a middle school student and his struggles with autism. The book includes a reader’s guide, group activities, information about combating bullying and Q&A with Sarah. In addition to writing books, Sarah also has her own website and Facebook page, where her friends can learn more about her experiences.

For this FCPS Voices interview, we thought it would be best to utilize a Q and A format. Sarah’s writing is so clear, so detailed that you can get an excellent viewpoint of her world.

Sarah Stup's latest book is entitled "Paul and his Beast."
A profile photo of author Sarah Stup. Photo by Johnny Martyr.
Frederick High graduate Sarah Stup loves to read and write.
The cover of "Paul and his Beast," the latest book from Frederick High graduate Sarah Stup.

Q: You mentioned your love of writing began when you were 8 years old. Who taught you how to write? Was it a teacher or a family member?

A: My speech therapist gave me a voice through typing. Then my special education teacher at Ballenger Creek Elementary, Mrs. Sharon West, introduced me to keeping a daily Journal. After that, I played with words and patterns for poetry. While in Frederick High School, I worked at The Arc of Frederick County writing book reviews and newsletter articles. Mr. Aaron Stephens was my mentor there, and with his help, my words were heard in Annapolis when I testified at a hearing advocating for people with disabilities. Even now, my words are marching new places.

Q: Are there similarities between you and Paul from your latest book, “Paul and His Beast?” If so, what are they?

A: Autism is the main similarity. I am pleased you asked, but I would rather you read my book to find out. There is another character in it with autism, Tim, who might be more like me since he does not have a sounding voice and he is a “runner” like I used to be when young.

Q: Do you feel people are more understanding of autism today than they were 10 years ago?

A: I go lots of places, even now, hoping to feel welcome but see fear on faces about my behavior that is strange to others. … What has changed is that we are out in the community and no longer hiding in your lonely corners. What needs to change is the community learning about and accepting differences. Staring hurts. Plans should unfold to become a place of welcome. I want to use my writing to build a new, exotic garden where two worlds meet and differences are welcomed, not feared. We people with disabilities are real people, worth knowing, who can be good friends and citizens.

Q: What qualities do people need to have in order to be your friend? How do you communicate with your friends?

A: People need to accept the things we people with autism need to do to protect ourselves from your confusing and overwhelming world. Sometimes we must go to an “inside place” where sounds, like many voices, or sights, like moving shadows and spinning scenes, cannot hurt us. When that happens, good autism friends need to simply wait until we can interact again, not force us or assume we don’t wish to be friendly. I do have some understanding friends and family, and I love them. I am pleased to be able to type to my friends, but typing takes time and so it is not easy. I do miss having a sounding voice that is quick and teasing and friendly, but at least I can communicate, and not all people have a voice at all. Pleased you asked this question. I hope we can be friends too.

“To be my friend is hard because people go away from autism. Because we experience your world differently, we may need to react to it in an unusual way. We cannot be you. Be an explorer who finds treasure beyond the strangeness.” — Sarah Stup, Frederick High graduate

Q: How did your Frederick County Public Schools experience shape the person you are today?

A: Normal kids sometimes thought I was broken and not a thinker, but I kept forging ahead in regular school where I learned lots. I used my education and my experience of living inside a body that does what it pleases without my permission to guide my writing. Writing is my only voice, and over time it has gotten louder and louder. It gives me power. Writing can change minds and hearts.

Q: How has social media helped you connect with new friend online? You have quite the following on Facebook!

A: I am most comfortable with computer friends because I am with autism and cannot control my body well enough to enjoy in-person visiting. I am pleased to enjoy my Blog and Facebook friends, and I am thankful they are with me regardless of my disability. I find them to be understanding and encouraging. My Blog and Facebook seem like a real, exotic garden where two worlds meet and differences are valued. I wish to gain more friends to show that we are celebrating differences.

Q: When you write, is it always in the same location? Or do you like to write in different places, different rooms?

A: I love to write in my cozy kitchen booth. Reading also happens there. Other places are not as easy for me.

Q: What other books have you written?

A: I hoped to make schools a better place for children with autism with my book, Do-si-Do with Autism and the Do-si-Do with Autism Friendship Kit, a CD-DVD set that helps children learn about and make friends with children with autism. It has a movie, stage play, ready-to-go lesson plans based on the Common Core standards, disability awareness activities, fun sheets and more! For adults, there is my collected works Are your eyes listening? as well as two gift booklets, Nest Feathers and Heart and Spirit.

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Sarah's Nine ways to support those with disabilities

1. Smile at us and those with us to help make us feel comfortable.

2. Give us time to adjust to our new environment and begin to feel calmer.

3. Please have patience because we experience the world differently from you and, therefore, we may react differently.

4. Try to ignore sounds or actions we may make that you may find strange.

5. Remember that differences can be physical, cognitive, and also behavioral.

6. What you see as rudeness may not be how we intended our actions. Sometimes our bodies do not listen to our instructions.

7. Please portray us as real people to your young children, not clowns to stare at or laugh about. We have feelings.

8. Know we are doing the best we can—just as you are.

9. We’d like to feel we belong and ask not to be seen as trespassers.