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A voice for autism: Taylor Cross has autism. Doctors once said he might never walk or talk. Now he's a teenage filmmaker, proving them all wrong. Here, Taylor shares his story.

I can't even describe autism that well to myself, let alone to someone else. But I know it's a disorder affecting the brain, social skills, and how people connect with the world and the people in it. It could be a part of anybody you know, and yet you might not know about it. Autism affects people to varying degrees. I only have a certain degree of autism. There are many other kids who are lower-functioning and there are some kids who are even higher-functioning than I am.

I had problems with tantrums when I was little. When I was very young, I banged my head. My face would get red. I would shake my fists tight up againts my chest. I did this sort of thing until I was in middle school. My outbursts got better in the eighth and ninth grades, but I still had them.

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I still lose control sometimes, but it isn't as big an issue as it was five of six years ago. It's hard for me to focus sometimes, but I try to learn new things. I still have trouble talking to people and sometimes I just can't get out what I want to say. That I can't communicate as well as I'd like is a challenge for me, and sometimes I confuse people by what I say, but hey, what fun is life without a little challenge? I have to focus hard even to write this. Ideas come easily, but words do not.

FILM BUFF

I've always wanted to make films. Originally, I worked on a l0-minute film that took about two to three months to produce. I interviewed five friends of mine who have autism. I love watching movies, so I thought it would be fun to make this one!

I won some awards, including "Best Pick" at a high school film festival. I got to be on Paula Zahn Now on CNN, and a PBS special was made about the film. Some newspaper articles were written and [singer] Clay Aiken gave me an award for being a "Champion of Change." Lots of people who saw the movie wrote to me and told me I helped them to understand the disorder, and that they wanted to learn more.

That led my 10-minute film to become a full-length feature. I didn't expect it to go this far! It just got popular enough that the producers of the short movie thought it would be great as a feature-length film.

DEFINING SUCCESS

I'd like people to know as much as they can about autism and accept others who are different from them. I'd also like people to help others when they see them struggle, and not make fun of kids with disabilities, since they usually have pretty hard lives. My dream is for people with autism to be accepted into society.

There is no secret to my success. I only followed my dream. I got really lucky. I had a really interesting subject and I had a lot of backing. When it comes to something that I know I want to do, I can be pretty determined. And then, there's my mom. She never let me get too comfortable in taking the easy way out because she taught me I had to work harder to find my way.

Now, at age 18, I live on my own. I have been doing public speaking. I go to schools and present at assemblies. I talk to kids about autism. I tell them about the challenges I have overcome and what my goals are for the future.

My advice to other teens is to ask yourselves, "What is normal, anyway?" and to aspire to achieve more than you think you can.

nuts & bolts

UNDERSTANDING AUTISM

What is autism?

Autism is a neurological, or brain, disorder. "People with autism generally have difficulty with sensory issues, communication, and socialization," says Marguerite Colston, director of communications for the Autism Society of America. They often have medical problems, particularly involving their immune and gastrointestinal systems, too.

What causes autism?

"There is no known cause and no known cure," says Colston. But doctors are getting better at diagnosing autism and lessening its symptoms.

What research is being done?

Scientists are studying the brain to learn more about autism. Dr. Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has analyzed brain images of people with and without autism. "In younger people on the autism spectrum, the brain is larger than it would be on average for someone of the same age [without autism]," says Herbert. But only certain parts are bigger--namely the brain's outer white matter, which helps transmit brain signals. More research is needed, but scientists think the white matter in people with autism might be inflamed, interfering with brain-signal transmission.

Autism is on the rise. Why?

There are probably many factors, says Herbert. Some concerns: pesticides and heavy metals like lead and mercury. Herbert hopes scientists can find ways to protect the body against these toxins.

--Patricia Janes

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LESSON PLANS

A Voice for Autism

DID YOU KNOW?

* Studies show that four of every, five people with autism are male.

CRITICAL THINKING:

* People told Taylor Cross that his film helped them understand autism. Why might Taylor's film be as powerful a tool as books written by doctors to educate the general public about autism?

CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS:

SOCIAL STUDIES: Have students do research to learn more about autism. Then, have them create a fact sheet that helps kids learn how to live with a sibling with autism. Suggested resources: www.sibs.org.uk/and www.nimh.nih.gov/health /publications/autism/complete-publication.shtml

RESOURCES

* This CDC Web site takes kids on a "Quest" for information about autism: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/kids/kautismpage.htm

* This University of Washington Web site describes the neurobiology of autism: http://faculty.washington.edu /chudler/aut.html

CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING

DIRECTIONS: Using complete sentences, explain the functions of the following areas of the brain.

1. Cerebral cortex: --

2. Amygdala: --

3. Basal ganglia: --

4. Corpus callosum: --

5. Cerebellum: --

ANSWERS

CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING, TE 5 & 6

1. Cerebral cortex: The cerebral cortex is involved in higher intellectual functions such as interpretation of sensory impulses

2. Amygdala: The amygdala influences emotions like anger and fear

3. Basal ganglia: Basal ganglia are structures deep within the brain involved in movement and learning

4. Corpus callosum: The corpus callosum is the cluster of white matter that connects the right and left sides of the brain, enabling them to communicate

5. Cerebellum: The cerebellum controls balance, body movement, and muscles involved in speaking.
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Title Annotation:LIFE AUTISM
Author:Cross, Taylor
Publication:Science World
Date:Nov 12, 2007
Words:1105
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