Autism Interview: Zachary Fligel, age 19

I met Zachary about 6 years ago, when his mom called me to tutor him in writing. Tutoring worked out well, so his mom and I designed a homeschooling program, and Zac and I worked together at libraries all over town for a few years. Then, we got sick of hanging out with each other all day, and decided to find him some fresh tutors, who he worked with a few years. Nowadays, we are friends, and we hang out about once a week, talk about his writing, and anything else that interests us. Recently, Zac let me interview him about his life.

I am so proud of Zac’s story, and the adult that he is growing up to be. Honestly, Zac works harder at his entire day than a lot people do at their job. It is not easy for him to stay organized, communicate what he needs to say, and to get what he wants in general.

My favorite part about our educational journey together has been learning about Zac’s sense of humor. In the beginning, we didn’t joke, and I didn’t know anything about his internal life, but after about a year, he started voicing observations and opinions which revealed his perceptive mind, and his wonderful mix of potty humor and slightly dry sarcasm. Since I am somewhat sarcastic myself (my friends are rolling their eyes right now), this new medium for interacting really improved our friendship.

This interview was even more fun than I expected it be because it started Zac and I down memory lane for a week or two. Since Zac is not a fan of surprising probing questions, I emailed him a list of stuff I was going to ask him about a week ahead of time. Then we met and talked about his responses.

We had a great conversation about all his collections over the years such as string, car parts, toy planes, and, of course, pens. Zac had, according to him, “enough pens to last a lifetime..well… that was back in 1999…maybe they would last a lifetime now that we have iphones and nobody even uses pens anymore…”! We chuckled over our trip to Washington DC, which was the setting for one of the few times I lost my temper with him (he wouldn’t stop munching potato chips and crinkling the bag at 2am in the dark!)

We also had an interesting conversation about some habits that Zac said he’s glad he doesn’t do anymore, like twisting his hair, and playing with a mole on his neck. When he told me this, I asked him why he was glad, and he shrugged and said he thought he looked like a weirdo. We both love that word, so I grinned, but pursued the topic:

Sylvia: Why do you think you did that stuff more in the past?
Zac: I don’t know…Because I was anxious….and it was just a habit.

Sylvia: When did you decide that you looked like a weirdo when you did that stuff?
Zac: I don’t know
Sylvia: …Well I don’t care if you do it. I mean, I twist my hair and wiggle my feet. It seems like everyone does something like that when they are zoning out, or anxious.
Zac: Yeah, I noticed that. I mean, what’s the big deal?

Sylvia: Well, how did you stop twisting your hair and doing the mole thing?
Zac: I don’t know…I guess I’m just not anxious all the time anymore. And when I am anxious, like at camp (Zac was a counselor in training at Dragonfly Forest) I don’t allow myself to do it.

Sylvia: Well everyone does little habits when they are anxious, it’s kind of dumb that some are considered acceptable, and some are not.
Zac: Yeah.


  1. Fred Weiner September 23, 2009 2:11 pm  Reply

    I had the chance to meet and work with Zac this summer at Dragonfly Forest. Zac is a great guy, who is fun to be around. I have no doubt that Zac will get his GED and find a job … it seem like when he sets his mind to doing something it gets done. I hope Zac returns to Dragonfly Forest next summer he is such a great role model for our kids with Autism.

  2. Carrie Holmes September 23, 2009 2:13 pm  Reply

    Zac- you’re awesome, and I think you are going to achieve your dreams of getting a GED & getting a great job. Keep it up man!
    Best, Carrie Holmes

  3. Traci Calabrese-Meyer September 23, 2009 7:28 pm  Reply

    You are one of the most amazing people that I know. You are kind and thoughtful. I love the way that you interact with me and my children (John 7 1/2 and Elizabeth 17 months). You help make our family complete. We love you so much! I have watched you mature into an incredibe person.
    I’m so proud to call you my brother and dear friend. Thank you for being a big part of my life. You make me want to be a better person and strive to do my personal best.
    Love you so much,

  4. Monee' Jackson September 23, 2009 7:37 pm  Reply

    Great Job Zac- Im so proud of you. I know you will get that good paying job you want!

  5. Empower Autism September 23, 2009 8:06 pm  Reply

    Thanks for all the comments! I really like seeing how much you all respect and love Zachary~! He has really been a wonderful part of my life here in Asheville.

  6. ANGELENA Baldwin September 23, 2009 9:58 pm  Reply

    Zac, the video was so good. You had great answers and looked at the camera like a pro. I bet the video helps other people with autism too. We hope to see you all soon!

  7. Natalie Navarro September 24, 2009 11:55 am  Reply

    I had the opportunity to work with Zac in the Teen Leadership Program this past summer and I must say I had the best time working with him. He was such a great role model and showed so much enthusiasm in everything he did. I am so fortunate to have gotten to know him.
    Zac- I wish you the best of luck in all the goals you have set to reach, I know you will do great things!

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