Meet Chris I.

Chris I., 27

"I’m proud of the fact that I can drive a car on my own, go from place to place and get to my appointments. Being independent is pretty important because sooner or later all of us will have to learn it one way or another."

When Chris was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at four and a half years old, his parents were left searching for answers. At the time of their son's diagnosis in the mid-90’s, the internet wasn't as abundant with reliable information as it is today, so their first reaction was a feeling of helplessness. They quickly began exploring every avenue to find ways to provide Chris with the assistance he needed to live his fullest life.

"At the time, we didn’t know what to do. There were very few resources as to how to proceed if he needed any type of special education or anything like that," said Chris' father, Bill. "That’s one of the things Autism Speaks now provides."

"I was trying to find books about autism and to learn everything I could," said Chris' mom, Marci. "I didn't know anybody who had a child with autism, so it wasn’t something I had help with or could talk to someone or share my concerns. Today, I tell everyone who asks to rely on Autism Speaks. They tell you what to do during the first 100 days of diagnosis. [They offer] videos of what to do when you take your child to get a haircut and everything beyond. There's so much information on their website, and I urge everyone to go there with any questions they might have."

With the help of his family, his former elementary school teacher and current life coach Heather, and a variety of therapies including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Chris learned to overcome many of the obstacles that stood in the way of living a fulfilling, independent life as a child. Today, Chris is a witty, strong-minded, thriving 27-year-old. He's excelling in his career at Huntington Bank, staying fit and active through swimming and weight training, and living independently in his own apartment.

"I'm proud of the fact that I can drive a car on my own, go from place to place and get to my appointments," he says. "Being independent is pretty important because sooner or later all of us will have to learn it one way or another."

"All the experts told us he was going to have some real struggles. And I don't think they ever thought he would get his high school diploma, or have a job, or drive a car," Bill said. "He is dedicated to everything he is supposed to be doing. If he decides he wants to do something, you better let him try because he’s capable of doing many things that people never thought he was capable of."