Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pep Talk: "Thanks For Encouraging Many"

“We have to continue to raise awareness of talents overlooked, misunderstood and underestimated,” was the powerful statement that almost knocked me from my chair.

I was sitting in the audience preparing to hear a motivational speaker at the Rocky Mountain Autism Summit. The person introducing the speaker had summed up in a simple phrase - “overlooked, misunderstood and underestimated” - the challenges present in trying to improve the lives of those affected by autism.

The handsome speaker came to the stage and proceeded in the next hour to entertain with a funny and informative message about finding humor in the literal mind. While sitting in the front row and chuckling frequently, my heart burst with pride and admiration for a young adult who has been on quite a journey.  

The speaker, Brent Anderson, has Asperger’s syndrome. According to it’s an “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements.”

I have been blessed to know the speaker most of his life. Nobody knows animals like the warm and friendly 30-year-old. I learn a lot in his presence. His mother is like a “sista from another mista” for your knucklehead scribe. Brent’s younger sister Jenny was my 26-year-old son Kyle’s first crush. “Dad,” said the two-year-old long ago from the child seat in the back of the car, “Jenny has stars in her hair!” It’s something we still laugh about almost a quarter of a century later.

The journey for the terrific trio has been anything but easy. Their story is another wonderful example that life is a roller coaster with unexpected twists and turns along the way. The big question always becomes, “How do we deal with them?” When the roller coaster we call life jerks you around, try the Anderson solution. It works.

The family story involves, about 20 years ago, the challenge of a proper diagnosis of Brent’s condition. Then the family had to deal with a father’s denial about the diagnosis. That friction contributed to divorce, but became additional kindling for an inferno growing within a determined mother grappling with her son’s communication challenges. The book series “Unintentional Humor” was born, and a mother, son and daughter boldly stepped forward to encourage others to effectively deal with the challenges of autism and society’s opinion of it.

Today, Brent and Linda travel the country sharing their positive message, teaching about humor, and making the world more accepting of those with disabilities. Jenny runs a non-profit that teaches entrepreneurial skills to those on the autism spectrum and their families.

It’s not a laughing matter to be “overlooked, misunderstood and underestimated.” A family is changing that by unleashing humor from the literal mind. The Anderson’s inspire many while delivering smiles to faces and hope to hearts. From “Uncle Mac” to all of you, thanks for encouraging many, from all walks of life, to turn turmoil into triumph.


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