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How this man is spreading autism awareness, one guitar pedal at a time

Grant Wilson is a small business owner, lover of rock music, distortion and guitar pedals. And he also has autism. Beginning April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, Wilson started an awareness campaign of his own: #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink, with a series of images and short descriptions on Instagram to give people an idea of what his world is like.

Each day of his awareness campaign, he described different personal experiences, from dealing with communication issues, phobias, obsessions, to being persistent and extremely cognizant of details.

"This wasn't meant to be 'woe is me,'" Grant told Autism Speaks. "It was meant to be, here are some things I'm dealing with, but at the end of the day check out all this cool stuff that's happening, too!"

After performing as a drummer in a band for over five years, Wilson shifted gears and started his guitar pedal business, BIG EAR n.y.c. Grant works daily with his fiancée, Karen Schierhorn, on all aspects of the business. He also works with a husband and wife duo, Charles and Stephanie Bennett, who solder, assemble and complete the tweaks and revisions of the circuits in each pedal based on Grant's specifications. They work together to perfect the sound of each pedal. 

Check out his inspiring Instagram posts below:

 

 

This is the second day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and I'm going to talk a little bit about... talking! (By the way, here's a picture of me with my two friends, Laurie and Isaac, from the band SLAVES. I'll explain below.) So when I talk about Autism, Aspergers, ASD, whatever you want to call it, there are still people who are surprised I can speak at all.. And while there may be a percentage of individuals on the spectrum who are non verbal, there are just as many (and I'm in this group) who can talk your ear right off. Ask around, people will tell you that I can continue to talk long after you've lost interest! My sisters always ask me: If am I so darn weird, how do I mingle with people at tradeshows and go to concerts and hang out with bands backstage, etc.? Truthfully, I think it's because almost everybody on Earth is weird in one way or another, and the people I meet are all gear-nerds at heart... so nobody really feels threatened. Just like the picture up there with @SLAVES... They don't threaten me at all, they're a bunch of sweethearts! And even though I have crazy eyes, they don't seem to be afraid of me either! (

 

Today is the third day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and yesterday I briefly mentioned my obsesseion with guitar pedals... Today I'm going to talk about my other obsessions. Every single day I get obsessed with something. Some days I get obsessed with several things. When this happens I start to hyper-focus on whatever that new obsession is. This ends up being both a good and a bad thing, as I will devote the entirety of my attention to a single thought or project (like, a thousand-million percent) and while there's usually always a great end result, I will have completely ignored the rest of the world around me in the process. I'm positive that everything I've ever done successfully was due to my ability to hyper-focus, and I know that it plays a huge role in literally every aspect of my business today. But again, for all the good (and great) that it does, it still slows me down a little bit.. and it feels like every time I check something off my list, I end up adding two more things to it! I can't let it get me down though, because when I look at the big picture, I realize that I have somehow managed to cross A WHOLE LOT of things off my list! (I've kinda been crushing it, if I may say so myself.) :P So apparently my autism makes me awesome. (That's the best thing I can come up with anyway.) So I'm going to keep being awesome, with plans to get even awesomer. (I know that's not a word!) But seriously, I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and if all goes as planned I'll keep "knocking down pins" until the game's over and the mothership comes to take me away! Thanks for letting me talk about myself some more. See ya tomorrow.. #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the fourth day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and today I'm going to talk about phobias. It's very common for individuals on the Autism Spectrum to experience phobias of dramatic proportions. In my case, flying (and even just airplanes in general) frighten me to my very core. I've never flown in an airplane, and I doubt that I ever will. And while some people might say that my irrational fear of flying poses a huge inconvenience to my life as a businessman, the reality is that NOT flying has been one of the greatest things I've ever done. To date, I have been in 43 of the United States and have seen it all from the ground level. (As a matter of fact, I'm en route to Nashville, TN right now!) I've met people and made friends in the most random of places.. I have seen and experienced so many incredible things that I surely would've missed had I not been such a scaredy cat! I've been everywhere, man.. I've been a vagabond and a road dog.. I have experienced the "Oregon Trail" in real life. ;) So is this really that big of a problem for me? I don't think so. People say there's a silver lining in every cloud.. but I just don't see this as a cloud at all.. The way I see it, clouds and flying are for the birds! #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the fifth day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and today I'm going to talk a little bit more about this series itself. Today marks the halfway point of the 10-day series I set out to write.. And when I decided to do this, I had no idea what to expect.. but I'm honestly amazed by how well-received it has all been! I've had literally hundreds of comments, messages, emails, texts/calls, etc.. from people all around the world... people I know, people I don't.. friends, family, old classmates and strangers alike. So many people have shared their own experiences with Autism and have encouraged me to continue spreading awareness and instilling hope in others. To be honest, YOU'VE all given hope to me. I wish I could say that this has been easy (oh my gosh, I wish I wish I could say that) but to be honest, managing to make each of these posts has been incredibly difficult to say the least. (I'm sure that making a series like this would be difficult for anyone.. especially by the seat of your pants!) The pressure on me to not screw this up has been damn near crippling. Countless times I considered taking a day off or just calling it quits entirely.. but I can't let myself do that.. for a million reasons.. but most of all, for you. So thank YOU for inspiring me to continue the series. I wouldn't be able to make it through without all of your support. #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the sixth day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and today I'm going to talk about being persistent (aka: being annoying). These posts for example might be a little annoying (that's why I'm sharing a picture of some pedals instead of my ugly mug again) but I am dead-set on getting through these 10 days, so you're just gonna have to come along for the ride. So here's the thing... I am extremely persistent. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. When I set my mind to do something, there is nothing in the world (short of maybe a new guitar OR an old one) that can divert my attention. When I was young, I was constantly getting scolded for this trait. When I saw a new Lego set, it was all I could talk about. When the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out, I wouldn't stop talking about it until we went to the theater. Then, when I saw my dad's shiny, red Slingerland snare drum in my grandma's attic, I asked him if we could take it home with us everyday until he finally caved in. That persistence sparked a fire in me that sent me off on the crazy musical journey that I've been on ever since! And today, as a business owner, my persistence is responsible for the overwhelming majority of my victories. I often make light of my autism by saying, "I'm just clinically annoying!" It seems like an easy way to explain it, and it definitely helps break the ice.. But here again, I'm also "clinically awesome!" I'm "clinically" a lot of things, and I'm definitely not to be put into just one box. My name is Grant Wilson, and I'm more than a diagnosis. #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the seventh day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series, and today I'm going to talk about details. They say "it's all in the details" and in my world, no truer statement could be made. I actually wish I could focus a little less on the details sometimes.. They just take up too darn much of my time (and it seems there's never enough time)! So apparently the human eye will accept up to 30% imperfection unnoticed.. but not my eye. My eye will not stop seeing problems and will it will drive me crazy to accept anything less than perfection. When I'm putting the knobs on my pedals, I will put them on and take them off repeatedly until they are perfectly aligned. When I hand-write the "thank you" cards that come along with each of our pedals, I am constantly tearing them up to start over due to slightly crooked lines or unbalanced margins. With the new fuzz pedal we are releasing, I have to paint the knob's indicator line white. Several people have told me that the knob would look fine with a black line, but I just won't accept that. It HAS to be white. Even though the human eye can "fix" the imperfections, I'm positive that subconsciously, all of these little details have much to do with the feeling people get when they see one of our pedals.. and I'm pretty sure that it even changes how people hear them. The human brain acts in weird ways... and I speak from experience! ;) #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the eighth day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series and today I'm going to talk about appearing "normal!" One of the biggest challenges I face with my autism is convincing people that I am in fact autistic. Almost every single time it comes up, I get told that I look too "normal" to be autistic! So what does "normal" look like anyway?! And why can't I be "normal" AND autistic? Sometimes I feel like I would need to be slobbering on myself, or chewing on my hand for people to be able to see that there is something more going on with my brain.. but alas, I somehow manage to blend in with the rest of you. This is most commonly an issue when I'm having a hard day (or what I call a "chemical day"). I try to explain myself but people still have such a hard time separating what they see from what they hear. However, on my good days, appearing normal allows me to be more approachable, which helps my business immensely. I feel like I've somehow been let into the "Humans Only Club," and I still don't really know how! I guess that's why they always say to not judge a book by its cover. Things may not always be as they seem.. and what you think you know may be very far off base or just flat out wrong. The most important thing that someone can do is to just listen (actually listen) and truly hear (without judgement)..... #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the ninth (and second to the last day) of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series and today I'm going to talk about honesty. I often times get in trouble for speaking my mind. It seems that people just really don't like the truth sometimes. When people consult advice, there are usually two different scenarios: The first is that they actually want to know the truth (this is oddly the least common scenario). The second is that they are really just seeking validation. I have trouble with the latter if my answer goes against what the person really wants to hear. I am brutally honest and am not very good at sugar-coating things. But honesty is supposed to be a good thing, right? As a person living with Autism, I find that the things that make the most sense to me seem to make the least sense to others. And I just don't understand... How can we truly communicate if everyone's afraid to tell the truth? I'm horrible at judging how somebody will perceive the things that I say, so I just say what I feel and don't really concern myself with how it comes across. For example, if you ask me what I think about your guitar tone, I'm going to tell you the truth.. whether you like it or not. It would not benefit either one of us for me to lie to you and for you to keep sounding like a 1970s AM radio. And as weird as this may sound, you'd probably end up trusting me more after I'd told you an uncomfortable truth. Then we could become friends and build a close relationship based on honesty AND sweet, sweet guitar tone! And that sounds good to me! #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Today is the tenth day of my #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink series and today I'm NOT going to talk about myself. This series, while it is about autism and my personal experience with it, is not ONLY about autism.. this series is about understanding. It's about patience. (Thanks for sticking with me through the last 10 days by the way!) This series is about awareness and growth towards a greater whole. When I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, I knew literally NOTHING about it. I had never heard of Aspergers, I had never heard of High Functioning Autism, I had never heard of ASD... Keep in mind that I had heard about A WHOLE LOT of things by this point in my life! So how could it be that I knew nothing about autism?! The answer is simple and also explains why several of you are in the same boat that I was in (though I hope that my series may have shed just a little bit of light on the subject). The answer is that NOBODY TALKS ABOUT IT.. And if nobody talks about it, nobody learns about it. My sister recently introduced me to a man named Kim Peek. Kim was the inspiration behind Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie, Rain Man, and he was an extraordinary individual. He stated "You don't have to have a disability to be different.. We're all different." And while that is an incredibly simple statement, I can't think of a much more impactful one. You may not be autistic (but chances are that you know somebody who is). You may not be depressed (but more than likely someone in your close-friend circle could use a hug right now). You may not even feel comfortable enough to talk about what you're dealing with.. Or maybe what you're going through cannot be expressed in words. But regardless of what any of us feel, there is one unifying thread between every one of us... We're in this together. Now, over the next few days I'm going to showcase a couple of the people who help me daily. I've talked so much about myself that I feel it's only fair to talk about the people behind the scenes.. I could not do anything without the help of my team. My company, and most definitely my sanity, would not exist without them. #AutismLooksDifferentThanYouThink

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

 

Meet Charles "Chuck" Bennett and Stephanie Carver Bennett! This husband and wife duo is currently responsible for all of the hand-soldering and assembly of each BIG EAR n.y.c. pedal! On top of that, Chuck does all of our PCB layouts and was the driving force behind all of the circuit tweaks and revisions to our current production pedals. We started working with Chuck and Stephanie after meeting Chuck at Winter NAMM '15 and pretty much instantly becoming friends. Chuck has taught me so much about what a well-crafted guitar pedal should look and sound like, and has been hugely instrumental in the giant leaps in quality that we've taken since starting to work with him. Stephanie is insanely detail-oriented as well. Her careful soldering skills contribute to the clean look of the insides of our pedals, which matters just as much as the look of the outside! I would honestly post more photos of these two, but because they are based out of Anaheim, CA, I can't easily snap pics! I ask Chuck for photos all the time, but he's a busy dude and is super modest, so he rarely sends me anything. So three cheers for Chuck and Stephanie! You are the best!

 

Last but not least, I want to introduce you to Karen Schierhorn! You may recognize Karen from some of the photos I've shared of her working on graphics in the past.. she's the reason our pedals look the way they do.. and she has been helping me express my vision since day one.. But more importantly, she has been helping me live my life for the past several years. On paper, Karen is our Art Director, but that's honestly only about 0.005% of what she actually does for me and BIG EAR n.y.c. Karen is essentially my guardian angel. If there's anything I know, it's that living with Autism can be hard.. And that living with someone with Autism can be just as hard, if not harder. (Don't get me wrong though, it can be incredibly rewarding, too!) Karen is with me through the good and the bad, and has been my rock more times than I can count. She has taught herself about Autism and has helped me to learn so much more about myself. I decided to use this series as a way to showcase the characteristics of my autism that I felt would be most uplifting.. but there are just as many things that I experience (and then by extension, Karen experiences) that are not nearly as fun or pleasant. In fact, it was Karen's idea for me to do the 10 day series. She knew how much stress it would cause for the both of us, but she still encouraged me to do it, and she even helped me come up with many of the talking points! I'm so glad I did it, too. Being a human is hard.. but like I said before, I'm getting better at it every day.. and Karen is getting better at learning how to help me when I need it. I'm not saying we don't fight.. cuz we sure do.. I can be pretty bullheaded.. but for everything that she has to put up with, she deserves so much more than just this post. She deserves a standing ovation!

A photo posted by BIG EAR n.y.c. (@bigearnyc) on

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.