This guest post is by Michael Anaclerio, a High School Social Studies Teacher T.F. North High School in Calumet City, Illinois. His oldest sister, Mary, was diagnosed with autism in 1974 at the University of Chicago. She passed away in October of 2012 of cancer. Michael is an advocate for people with autism.
“Howdy big shooter!!!!!!!!” This is how Everette Yoakum greets me every morning as he walks by my classroom. Everette is a sophomore, at the high school I teach at, and has autism. I do not teach special education classes, but that has not stopped him from meeting and getting to know teachers he does not have.
My oldest sister, Mary, had autism, she passed away in 2012 at the age of 41 from colon cancer. Autism is very unique in that people on the spectrum are all a little different from one another. I had yet to meet a person on the spectrum that has many of the same facial expressions and mannerisms Mary had, until I met Everette. The daily routine with Everette keeps me connected to the world of autism, which is fascinating and frustrating. When life feels overwhelming, he helps me keep things in perspective.
My mom always said Mary and other people with autism know what’s truly important in life. For Everette, it is saying hello in a unique way to teachers that makes his day. One aspect I wish people understood more about autism is that they may do certain things that are outside of societal norms, but they enjoy the small things in life. Say hello, shake their hand, ask how their day is going, engage them for a couple minutes and you will make their day, I promise.
Like many people with autism, Everette likes to focus on certain things and sometimes repeat them to you until you respond. Last year as a freshman, Everette would ask me about Tom Skilling, the most popular meteorologist in Chicago, and if I watched him on the WGN news the previous night. He would tell me what the weather forecast was from Tom. In the spring of his freshman year, he began asking me if he would be able to see Tom Skilling on his birthday, which is in May. Through relationships I have made through Autism Speaks, it hit me that my friend Lou works at Comcast in Chicago. Lou has a daughter with autism and is on the board for the Chicago chapter.
I reached out to Lou and asked him if he had contacts at WGN, and thankfully he did! Lou put me in contact with one of the producers and we were able to set up a meeting between Everette and Tom Skilling. I don’t know who was more excited when his mom called me to tell me they were driving to studio, me or Everette. His mom sent me pictures from the visit. The look on Everette’s face was priceless. All the worry I see in his face at school was gone, he was truly happy. Everyone who knows Everette at the school said they have never seen him smile like that before.
They went to see him on a Friday afternoon. That Monday morning at school, Everette walked up to me, greeted me with much enthusiasm and asked “howdy big shooter, guess who I saw on Friday?!?!”