Skip navigation

Calls to Action

The moment my son with autism said, 'I believe in me'

This guest blog post is by renowned American artist and three time national award winning art educator of the year, Michael Bell. Follow Michael on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

One of the greatest fighters of our time was once asked what he believes in. “I believe in me,” he said. “I have no other choice.”

These are the words I painted on our son Carmen’s wall in his bedroom the day after receiving his autism diagnosis.

I BELIEVE IN ME,” I wrote in big bold letters above his door.

It’s something my wife, Lisa and I remind him daily, because Carmen’s fight is much different than the fight most people have to undergo in

life. Life definitely changed the day he officially was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), coupled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) shortly after celebrating his eighth birthday.

At first, I began reflecting back on all the memories we have of Carmen growing up. How he’d start making these excitable noises that gradually evolved into an uncontrollable wringing his hands and grimacing facial expressions he often makes when over stimulated, whether it’s from watching a Minecraft video on YouTube or watching the pendulum swinging back and forth on his favorite “Howard Miller” clock, which he’s totally fascinated with to the point where he’ll spend hours researching how the inner workings of the clock is constructed and how it chimes.

I also reflected back on my journey as an artist, how I’ve always gone after my dreams. But, what about my son? What about his dreams? What will his life look like now? After a few weeks of researching and crying ourselves to sleep at night while reading every autism book on the planet, a custodian at my school turned me on to a boxing gym in our area, “Kicked Up Fitness.”

We had tried Karate with Carmen once a couple years ago but it didn’t really stick. There were too many distractions and too much lag time in between exercises. But boxing, I figured, was worth the shot. And the more I researched, it seemed boxing could be good for children on the spectrum due to the repetition of everything - the rituals - from the wrapping of the hands to the repetition of punches, turns, and the way boxing really forces your whole brain to think and react in concert with your body. There’s an art to it most people don’t realize. So, I signed Carmen and myself up for one-on-one boxing lessons.

After all, I could never expect Carmen to do something I, myself wouldn’t do too, so this became our father-son ritual, going to boxing together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This also became training. Training for a new way of life. The life of a fighter.

Here's a recent short video compilation put together by his boxing coach:

I’m proud to say it’s been two years and we’re still going strong in the boxing gym. My son, “Lil C the Butcher” they now call him, is like a permanent fixture there, and it’s all thanks to an incredible cast of some of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.

Tony Acevedo (owner), Autumn Wolf (who trains C) and Arthur Neal have given our son a new home, away from the struggles and frustrations he experiences in school. It’s even helped him develop a newfound confidence he never had before boxing. He not only stands up for himself now with bullies at school, but he even stands up for other kids, including his best friend who was being pushed down at recess on a regular basis. I’m proud to say, not anymore he’s not!

So, while some consider boxing a violent, barbaric craft, for us, it has literally saved our life. It’s one of those sports where you have no one to rely on but yourself. To succeed, skill and talent alone is not enough either. The will to win is worth much more. And like my trainer Neal says, “It’s not what you tell him. It’s what he sees.”

What I hope he always sees is his “will to win” against all odds.

“I believe in me,” he now says. 

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.