Meet Chris T.
Chris T: From finding out how he acts has a name to finding his way as an actor, 30
Being a self-advocate means being someone who can stand on behalf of the community, to be a source of guidance and being a helper to those who cannot speak for themselves.
If you watched any Autism Speaks videos, you you may have had the privilege of hearing Chris T, a 30-year-old voice actor, narrate. It was rather fortuitous for us to find out Chris was autistic after we chose him for his deep and commanding voice and compellingly passionate tone among hundreds of voice actors for this part. It was the perfect voice to convey our organizational values and dedication to our mission work.
It was more accidental that Chris found out about his diagnosis. Right before high school, he peeked inside a school document meant only for his parents and was stunned. It indicated that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. But when he looked up autism, he felt a a sense of relief and revelation. "Oh my gosh...what I do...how I act has a name," he recalled to us.
He began to read more about autism to understand himself and feel more confident in his abilities as an autistic. Sixteen years later, here he is, training with voice coach and mentor, Ray Schilens, in hopes of inspiring others and proving to himself that he can do whatever he puts his mind to. In this Spectrum Spotlight, the Texas native gets candid about his journey.
Learn more about Chris through his own words in this Q&A:
What does being autistic mean to you?
There are many different meanings to being autistic. To me, it's a feeling of knowing that I am different. In the beginning, I had no idea what I was and faced stereotypical teasing, judgements, etc., amongst my peers in school. As I progressed through my teenage years, I started to understand that being autistic meant just being myself and knowing that it's not something to be ashamed about.
How were you received by friends and peers when you revealed you were on the spectrum?
Upon my discovery, I initially didn't know what to think or how to disclose it because I just began reading about it. One year later, in 2009, I was in a study session when the school newspaper came out which included an article about autism. This struck a chord because my classmates were talking about that article. So, I disclosed to my class that I was autistic.
I was initially nervous, thinking that I would be bullied further in school, having dealt with bullying in the years prior to high school. That, however, completely changed when my classmates began to appreciate me for who I was. Some of the bullies realized that they were wrong and apologized for how badly they treated me. This showed me that people and attitudes do change for the better, and my own self-esteem improved.
In what areas of your life has your autism helped you excel?
Knowing more about being autistic helped me to understand and connect with people's emotions. In the years of my youth, I was often overly emotional because I could not voice my concerns when something was wrong mentally. But instead of being understood, I was often criticized and ostracized by some teachers who did not want to understand me. So, being autistic and being more self-confident about it helped me to become a bigger empath, to know what people outside my social circle are like and how they act.
What struggles have you faced because of your autism?
Inevitably, I've had many struggles, but most of my struggles being autistic have had a single common issue that schoolchildren cannot evade: the practice of a fire drill. My struggle stems from the intensity of the sound of a fire alarm, and this was a recurring problem that eventually led to my diagnosis. I was consequently overly emotional and paranoid in the classroom, unable to focus because the alarm was too loud and had (at one point in high school) caused me to develop a mild ear bleed.
What services and supports have you received since being diagnosed? How have they helped you?
In my school years, I only had partial services, such as modified tests/curriculum to help me cope with my difficulties so that I would not be overwhelmed mentally. It wasn't until 2016 when I began seeking counseling to be able to express myself as an autistic individual. As an empath, I needed to learn how to express myself without fear of punishment or retaliation, etc. This was part of my struggle being autistic and I had to find the willpower to heal from it. Because if I cannot talk it out when it's important, then how am I, as an autistic adult, to stay true to my sense of empathy?
What advice would you give to someone diagnosed with autism later in life, wondering what the future holds for them?
First of all, I hope you don't ever feel sorry for yourself. It's not what I would want you to do. I hope you read up about autism, get in touch with a good support system and surround yourself with people who love and care for you. Don't let anybody try to take advantage of you or allow them to dictate what you can/cannot do because you're autistic. And just be yourself. Choose your own destiny and be true to yourself and know that you're not crazy or weird; you are just who you are, and that's okay.
How did you get into voiceover business?
I've been training since 2021, having been influenced by the local business of the anime industry in/around Houston since 2012. I've traveled to anime conventions and met numerous voice actors who all believed in me. I've practiced mock sessions at some conventions and took some lessons sporadically. Then in 2021, I met my coach, Ray Schilens, and discovered that he coaches aspiring voice actors. We worked hard to produce two demos in 2021 and 2022.
With this experience, I've learned how to read carefully, to breathe more efficiently, and to just be myself. It only took a short amount of time for me to realize that this was where my heart belongs. My family has been rather receptive of my desire to choose this path, and I've honestly never felt any prouder of myself doing so.
How does it feel to be the voice behind one of Autism Speaks’ most recent video productions?
It feels surreal at this moment because this is my very first job as a voice actor. It feels like an immense honor to take part in this opportunity. This helped me to be more expressive to convey the message about autism awareness in a more positive light, and it also helped me to further discover my true talents and strengths as a voice actor. As an autistic adult, myself, I feel that this is an important landmark in my rising career to be a messenger for Autism Speaks and the autism community and its supporters.
What are your future goals?
I am hoping to progress further in my dream of being a voice actor so that I might be able to live an independent life, have a very happy future and I might be able to start a family of my own someday.
Why is being a self-advocate important to you?
Being a self-advocate means being someone who can stand on behalf of the community, to be a source of guidance and being a helper to those who cannot speak for themselves. It's about being a person of goodwill to stand by one's side and not put down our fellow autistics in the community. We must show them that we are not alone, and that we must all come together and be the guiding light that autistic individuals need.
What are five words that best describe you?
Friendly, gentle, believable, empathetic and strong.