Meet Tyler H.

Meet Tyler H. , 19

Autism makes me unique because I have an amazing memory of people’s names and details of past events that I’ve attended. People are often surprised at how well I remember names and dates of both past events and upcoming plans.

This month, we launched our “Year of Kindness” initiative: challenging our community to complete one million acts of kindness for people with autism by the end of 2020. In the spirit of this exciting news, we thought there was no better time to feature a young autistic man, who has experienced firsthand just how powerful acts of kindness, inclusivity and understanding can be while navigating life on the spectrum.

Proud parents Teron and Tonya can’t help but smile when they think about how far their son Tyler has come since being diagnosed with autism at age two. They vividly remember the lowest of lows as they watched their little boy lose speech for almost two years as a toddler. They can remember the sadness and frustration in Tyler’s eyes when he was teased by some classmates and made to feel like an outsider. It’s heartbreaking memories like these that make Tyler’s recent successes as a teenager that much sweeter for the close-knit Missouri family. 

Today, Tyler, 19, is in the second semester of his freshman at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Not only does he live on campus in a dorm suite with two other students, he’s thriving in all of his classes thanks to the extra support he receives as a member of the SUCCEED Program, a post-secondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In just his first few months on campus, Tyler has made many new friends thanks to his upbeat and positive personality, joined several clubs, including intramural basketball – his favorite sport – and even landed his first part-time job in guest relations at the campus recreation center. 

Tyler’s parents credit their son’s amazing strides into adulthood to crucial early intervention services, a caring and supportive group of family members and kindhearted friends who always stood by his side and his strong will to make the most of his life.

“Tyler is amazing and has defied so many odds. It has been a long journey. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of continuous communication, teamwork and collaboration with school teams, programs and other external resources. It was very important to engage, early on, in the process of discovery for Tyler – finding out exactly who he was and how autism affected him. This helped us to better advocate and collaborate with others on his behalf. We are now helping to promote Tyler’s independence and ability to self-advocate. We are so proud of him!” 

Autism Speaks Spectrum Spotlight: Meet Tyler H.

Learn more about Tyler below in this edition of Spectrum Spotlights.

At what age were you diagnosed with autism?

I was diagnosed with autism at two years of age. I could say a few words as a toddler, but then lost speech completely when I was 16 months old. I did not begin to use words again until I was around four years old.

When did you realize what it meant to be on the spectrum?

When I was in second grade, I began to understand that something was different. It was very hard for me to understand classwork and concentrate. It was hard to communicate with others and express myself. I became upset very easily. I would be removed from the regular classroom for long periods of time so that the teacher could continue to teach the other students. Also, children would laugh or stare sometimes at the way I spoke or behaved. My parents explained to me that I was not “bad”, but that my brain works in a different, special kind of way and that the support person and extra teachers were there to help me learn and enjoy school. 

How has your autism affected your life?

Having autism has been very challenging. The biggest challenge with autism has been how to clearly communicate to others, understand my work and different social situations. I often need extra help to understand certain instructions and situations or what is being asked of me. It is very important that I have the correct resources and support. I still need help but have made a lot of progress! I had to learn how to ask for help. 

How does it make you unique?

I have a great memory of people’s names and details of past events that I’ve attended. People are often surprised at how well I remember names and dates of both past events and upcoming plans. I am also very organized and good with mental math. I can usually add multi-digit numbers very fast!

In what areas has autism helped you excel?

Autism has helped me with organization, memory of people and situations and, later, how to socialize better. Once I began to get the right support, I could understand better what was being asked of me and what resources I need to do certain things. I may still need help with things, but I have become much more comfortable asking for help and using my resources. By the time I reached high school, I had a lot more confidence and began to participate in a lot of activities and programs. I was in a social club, a diversity club, on student council and selected to be a manager and partial team player on the boys’ varsity basketball team. The coaches put me in several games, and I scored many three-point shots! Everyone was always so excited for me. 

What struggles have you faced because of your autism?

I have struggled a lot with communication and how to express myself and understand different situations. A lot of times people didn’t understand what I was saying or the reason for my behavior. Some of my teachers said that I was too “difficult” and “out of control.” It was also hard to make friends and participate in different activities when I was little. I wanted to have friends but had trouble communicating. Some people said that I was “strange.” It was also very hard to understand schoolwork because of my autism. 

How has your family supported you through your autism journey?

Autism Speaks Spectrum Spotlight

My parents knew I would continue to improve if I had the right resources and support. They continued to learn more about how autism affected me and worked with my school and other resources to make sure that I got the right support. They also worked hard to make sure that I was included in different activities outside of school. A lot of my family educated themselves on autism and how to work with me and they would also educate other people.  

How has the SUCCEED program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, impacted your life?

I am so excited to be in the SUCCEED Program at the University of Missouri – St. Louis! I really wanted to go to college after high school but knew that I would need special support. My family helped me to find a special college program for students like me. The SUCCEED Program has helped to really improve my social, communication and decision-making skills! Each day at college, I make decisions for myself and travel around the campus to get to my classes and different activities. The instructors and mentors are also great, and I like all of my classes. I also got a job on campus. I was so excited to look for a job, apply, interview and be hired! I work at the campus recreation center in guest services. It is so cool!

What has life been like as a college freshman living on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis?

Living on campus is so great! I live in a dorm suite with two other students. I can get to my classes easily and there are so many fun activities in the dorm and around campus. I have learned about the different buildings, activities and programs on campus and made so many new friends! I have had to learn how to balance my time between classes, homework, work and having fun! I use a planner to help keep things organized. I am very proud of myself. 
What are some of your goals for the future?
After the SUCCEED Program, I plan to work at a job where I can use my social and organization skills. I will also take different kinds of cool classes so that I can always learn new things. I also plan to keep in contact with friends and continue to participate in social programs and activities. I hope to live in an apartment with maybe a roommate so that I can continue to work on being independent.  

Autism Speaks is making 2020 the Year of Kindness. What would your message of kindness be for people who may need positive vibes sent their way?

Do your best. You are doing so great. I want you to try because there are people to help you every step of the way. 

What was something kind that someone said or did for you in recent memory?

My high school basketball coach made me an official part of the team starting my freshman year up until I graduated. All of the players accepted me and became my friends. Also, Aggie, another student here at USML, helps me with school-work and other tasks throughout the day. 

What five words best describe Tyler to the world?

Joyful. Resilient. Social. Fun. Motivated.

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