My first breathing easy day was the day my regular kindergarten teacher changed my name on the attendance chart from Sweeney to Savarese. I knew then that I was a lot safer than I had ever been. I had spent time fearfully living in foster care. When my name changed to Savarese, time stood still. Years of hurt were over, and years of humanity had begun.
The name Savarese refers to people who came from Southern Italy. My dad's grandfather came to America from Sicily, but that's not what my last name means to me. To me the name Savarese means “freedom” and “safe passage.” It means that I belong with my mom and dad and reasonable people, greeting the world as dear. I hear my name with great pride.
My middle name was also changed from Joseph to James. My dad thought I was named David James while I was in foster care. When he freed me, he decided to hear my real self. When he adopted me, he wanted us to share middle names, so he gave me his middle name, James. To me James feels dear and reassesses autism as a fresh way of seeing the world rather than a disability.
My formal first name is David, which means “friend” or “beloved.” I love those meanings, but I prefer to be called Deej. Mom calls me Deej, and I really love when kids or adults call me that because then I know they know my kindhearted parents.
DJ Savarese. I hope one day to see that name on the cover of my book. “Frees” are people that talk a lot. They don't understand why I hold feelings inside, but years of breaking the great barriers between Frees and autistics rests on my shoulders. If you're sitting in front of your computer sometime, google “DJ Savarese.” You will greet all the work I have done so far to free my people. Reasonable People, the book my dad and I wrote, is just the beginning.
I have freed myself, and now I hope to free other kids who want a chance to read and write. When I think of Mrs. dear Johnson, my regular kindergarten teacher, I easy breathe. And I wonder if she realizes that the day she changed my name on the attendance chart was the beginning of my reassessed as smart self's walk down Freedom’s Trail.
Senior, Grinnell High School
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.