High school student Brody Butts of Salmon Arm made the short list for the Autism Society of B.C.’s Excellence in Autism Awards, being honoured by peers and fellow advocates during their award ceremony April 20 in Richmond.
Brody, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and has dealt with autism most of his life, was nominated in the self-advocacy category for his efforts to serve as a mentor to fellow students living with autism and his work in breaking down barriers and stereotypes associated with those living on the spectrum. He is extremely passionate about his role as a mentor. taking it upon himself to not only encourage those who feel limited by their condition, but also to educate others who may not understand the fallacy of many common stereotypes.
“The feeling that comes from being able to help is unexplainable,” he says. “When I hear about how other students are doing in classes, if I hear from them directly or from one of their teachers that I’ve had an impact on them, it means a lot because I know that I am making a difference for other people as someone has made a difference for me. I’m strictly just passing that on. And I think what’s really important to me is that I’ve been able to show other autistic students how to self-advocate, what self advocacy can do for them.”
Brody is a part of a mentorship program at Salmon Arm Secondary School where he meets with other kids who are on the spectrum, talks to them about the importance of being a self-advocate and mentors them on the neuro-typical world. He has been featured as a guest speaker by the Shuswap Children’s Foundation, as well serving as part of a committee which organized the first annual Salmon Arm Secondary Wellness Conference, also speaking as part of that event. He has no desire to stop his advocacy anytime soon and feels it is something that he will continue being passionate about throughout his life.
“It’s important to me to keep up this advocacy work because you don’t see many self advocates. The first part of my diagnosis, it was mainly my mom doing a lot of the advocacy for me. But eventually I figured that I’m at school by myself most of the time, I don’t have my mom here, I’m not going to have my mom for all of my life, so I took it into my own hands to become my own best advocate, and through that I kind of took on the role of being the advocate for other students as well,” Brody says.
He believes that common stereotypes and tropes about those living with autism are wildly false, and contribute to nothing but wrongly held opinions of people living on the spectrum, and self-doubt for those who are subjected to them.
“They are all just stereotypes. For so many students with autism you commonly find that there is something that they can do that they just excel so much in,” Brody says. “They are doing things differently and they are going places with that.”
In fact, Brody feels it is better to view the symptoms of autism as challenges, not limitations. He points to figures throughout history who were believed to have had autism as examples of just how much those on the spectrum can accomplish.
“Looking to the history of innovations and huge leaps and bounds that have been made in science and art, they say that Mozart and Bach both had autism, they say that Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein had autism,” he says. “Elon Musk, who just put the largest rocket into space ever a few months ago, is diagnosed with Asperger’s. And he is looking to put people on Mars! You can’t tell doctors to look at these people and say that they were limited to never having a career.”
Brody’s mother, Brandi Butts, is incredibly proud of the progress her son has made and the passion she sees in him when it comes to breaking down barriers and stereotypes surrounding autism.
“I can’t believe the feedback, that’s just been overwhelming! To hear some of these things about him, like his school counsellor referred to Brody as being a once in a career student,” she says. “The love and the support means a lot. And the fact that people know who Brody is, like he’s made a name for himself as somebody who is respected and educated. I’m just incredibly proud.”
She also notes that it is important for groups like Autism B.C. to recognize the achievements of people like Brody who go out of their way to support and mentor others out of completely selfless motivations.
“I mean these people aren’t doing these kinds of things for the recognition, so it’s nice to spread the word, I think that’s important,” she says.
For Brody, who is just about to graduate from high school, the future seems wide open to him. With offers of acceptance from three different universities, and a pretty clear set of goals in mind, it looks like nothing but upward momentum for this young advocate.
“I’ve already decided that I’m pursuing a career in medicine and neurosurgery, so when Im in university I will get to study neuro-science and I’m hoping to do some of my papers on neuro-plasticity which is a huge part of autism,” he says. “I’m planning on continuing my self-advocacy because if no-one does it, it will never be heard of. There always has to be somebody to advocate for themselves in order for others to then start advocating for themselves. It’s that same social anxiety where you might want to go do something but you won’t unless somebody else does it first.”
The most important thing for people to remember about those living with autism, Brody says, is “we’re just like anyone else. Except we see the world in different colours.”