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Year in Review: Top Human Interest Stories of 2013

Human Interest News

Year in Review: Top Human Interest Stories of 2013

A lot of individuals made an impact on the autism community in 2013. There are some individuals whose autism allows them to achieve the unbelievable and there are others who have overcome their diagnosis to achieve greatness. This section will highlight some of the 2013 accomplishments of the young and old on the autism spectrum.
  • Jacob Barnett's parents were once told by doctors that their child would likely never learn how to tie his shoes. Jacob was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and, at age 14, he is now predicted to one day win the Nobel Prize in physics. The prodigy has given TedX talks and is currently working toward a master’s degree in quantum physics.
  • Susan Boyle, a Scottish musician who initially gained fame for her performance on Britain’s Got Talent, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and has since expressed her relief at finally having the right label for her condition. Boyle claims that in the past she would have difficulty with relationships and communication, which “led to a lot of frustration.” There is likely a large portion of adults who have yet to be diagnosed with Asperger’s, a disorder that was first included in the 1994 publication of the DSM-IV and has since vanished with the May 2013 release of the DSM-5.
  • Kevin Healey is fighting back from a lifetime of bullying due to his autism by trying to introduce legislation to make it legal for the police to prosecute somebody for participating in online bullying. His campaign has gained the recognition of English celebrities Ricky Gervais and Katie Price, who pledged support Kevin’s fight back against cyberbullying. Under the current legislation, police file this type of abuse as a hate crime, but are not obliged to follow up on the complaint unless violence is threatened. Kevin wants police to be able to legally prosecute the perpetrators for these hate crimes, even if they do not threaten to physically hurt the person. To help combat online bullying, Healey has set up an online petition and if he gets 100,000 signatures, MPs will debate the possibility of amending existing British law in parliament. To learn more about Kevin Healey’s crusade, visit his petition page.
  • Sam Wessels is an 11-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who enjoys video games. Sam was diagnosed with autism after at the age of 2 after he stopped talking and displaying developmental milestones. Sam would accompany his mother, Lin, to various events in which she would ask politicians what they were doing to help individuals on the autism spectrum. Sam was inspired by his mother’s initiative and today claims he has “talked to pretty much every candidate that comes to Iowa.” However, his first question to a politician was addressed to Sen. John McCain concerning his future plans to help people around the world with autism. In addition to meeting with politicians in his home state of Iowa, Sam boasts that he has met most of the presidential candidates, including President Obama on two separate occasions. Sam believes it his duty as a verbal individual with autism to speak up for those on the spectrum who cannot. For his efforts, Sam was one of 6 out of 100,000 video entries recently presented a CNN iReport award for his video about life with autism.
  • Rex Lewis-Clack was born blind and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder very early on in his life. At the age of 2, his father gave him an electronic keyboard and today Rex is a music prodigy. Rex’s experience with music has inspired those in his life to start a charitable foundation, the Rex and Friends Charitable Foundation with the goal of providing music education grants to those with autism or blindness. According to Sam McElroy, his music teacher, Rex, who is now 18, has an enviable musical memory that allows him to listen to a piece of music and remember it forever. Although Rex has been a professional performer since the age 8, he still has difficulty communicating away from his keyboard. A video accompanied by this article explores the depth of Rex’s abilities as well as his difficulties.
  • Dallas W.R. Looman has wanted to be a professional artist since he was a child, drawing pictures of his school days and showing them to his mother. Drawing has been an effective tool for communication for Looman after he was diagnosed with autism at two and half years of age. The aspiring artist got one step closer to achieving his dream in 2013 as he was selected by “Very Special Arts,” the international organization on arts and disability and an educational affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, participated in an exhibition of artwork by emerging artists, ages 16 to 25 with disabilities, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2013, Looman received an Award of Excellence of $2000 for his contributions to the art community.
As you can see from the numerous examples listed above, individuals on the autism spectrum are able to achieve anything they want given the right supports and resources. Signs of this shift in attitude towards individuals on the autism spectrum have been growing in our society and were very apparent in 2013. Masses of people came out to show support for individuals on the autism spectrum after a number of heinous incidents involving members of the autism community. A disgusting letter left on the door of a mother of a child with autism, suggesting that she should “euthanize” her child, was met with unprecedented backlash from the online community. People the world over showed their support for the family using the #LoveforMaxwell on Twitter. Social media was also in an uproar this past year with the news of a store clerk with Asperger’s being bullied by a customer to bag faster and to not work “too slowly.” His sister posted a summation of the incident and it soon went viral, earning a whopping 159,000+ likes and just under 25,000 shares on Facebook at the time of this publication. Another incident causing social upheaval occurred in reaction to rapper J. Cole’s rap lyric using the word “retarded.” The reaction from the autism community forced the rapper to pen an apology letter. Other examples of the nation’s growing acceptance of those on the autism spectrum are seen in the record numbers of funds raised and participants seen at autism awareness walks across the nation, homecoming kings and queens with autism are being elected by teenagers across our nation, and children on the spectrum are being welcomed onto sports teams at all levels of competition. Today, individuals on the autism spectrum are afforded more opportunities now more than ever. However, there is a still lot that must be done to help those across the nation with autism achieve independence.