Inspiring stories of people on the autism spectrum
April is National Autism Awareness Month to promote awareness and understanding for those who live life with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a set of complex developmental disabilities that affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with other people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one out of every 68 children in the U.S. is affected. It is a lifelong condition that includes Asperger's Syndrome and high functioning autism (HFA) at one end of the spectrum, and those who are non-verbal and intellectually disabled at the other end. Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed than girls; some research suggests symptoms in girls may be different and sometimes overlooked.
Despite the challenges of ASD, people can succeed in life. Here's a look at some people with amazing accomplishments who inspire AND are on the autism spectrum.
Sources: CBS News, Autism Speaks
The world learned of Susan Boyle's incredible singing talents when she performed her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical Les Miserables on "Britain's Got Talent" in 2009.
The Scottish church volunteer has said she was always considered "eccentric." Stories circulated about her being deprived of oxygen at birth and thus being brain damaged. The instant fame and attention put her volatile incidents in the spotlight. She was only diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in December 2013.
On stage, Boyle says she feels "safe" and that it helps her condition. She struggles with behavior off-stage, telling Britain's Daily Mail, "Off stage, well, it happens lots. It always has. But I'm getting better at dealing with it because I know what it is. If I feel I'm going to take a mood swing, I get up and leave."
Despite her challenges, her incredible talent shines through. Boyle's debut album, "I Dreamed a Dream" was Britain's best-selling debut album of all time and the second best-selling album in the U.S. for 2009. Her second album topped both British and American music charts.
Ten years ago it was his job to fetch water and mop up other people's sweat for the Greece Athena Trojans in Rochester, New York. But then for the last regular season game of his senior year in 2006, the coach let Jason -- better known JMac -- suit-up and play the final four minutes.
"I just caught fire. I was hot as a pistol," he said. As CBS News' Steve Hartman reported, McElwain ended up shooting six 3-pointers -- one right after the other. He had 20 points total. And each time a shot went in his teammates and the crowd went a little crazier. His last basket, right at the buzzer, created total mayhem.
McElwain met with then President George W. Bush. He co-authored a book about himself. And perhaps the biggest change of all, is this: "It gave me confidence that I could do anything," McElwain said.
After graduation, he became assistant coach at his old high school. His passion for the game hasn't faded a bit. The only difference is that now, above it all, number 52 hangs near the rafters. His retired jersey is a reminder to all of us that there is greatness waiting in every kid.
Temple Grandin is a world-renowned an expert on animal behavior, having designed humane systems for cattle processing across the U.S. and helped develop animal welfare guidelines.
She was the subject of the Emmy-winning HBO movie "Temple Grandin."
Grandin is also an author whose books about her inner life as an autistic person have helped many people have a better understanding of the condition. Her TED talk, "The world needs all kinds of minds," in 2010 was about how her mind works - her ability to "think in pictures" rather than words. She says today people like Albert Einstein and Mozart would probably be considered to be on the autism spectrum.
In 2010, Time Magazine named her one of its most Influential People of the Year.
She simply says, "Autism is part of who I am."
On CBS News: Temple Grandin: Understanding autism
Gerald Franklin is a game and interface designer for WebTeam Corporation. Being on the spectrum, Franklin found technology and games to be a source of comfort and a way to connect with others. He continues to study and utilize accessible design so more people can experience the same.
Franklin said, "I wanted to make games, apps and websites that didn't leave out those with disabilities and special needs. As someone with Asperger's, I had a vested interested in following this passion."
Franklin has worked behind the scenes as one of the leading designer of the website The Spectrum Careers, a new employment initiative that links employers with people with autism to find them jobs.
On the Autism Speaks blog, Franklin describes "tradeoffs" to being on the spectrum, with being astute, detail-oriented and diligent some of the traits that are considered a plus. He openly says that he is still learning how to redefine autism as it relates to himself and the challenges he deals with.
Jake Barnett is a math and science prodigy with autism (Asperger's).
At age two, Jake Barnett began to regress - he stopped speaking and making eye contact. The diagnosis: autism. His future was unclear. It was thought he was uncommunicative and it was thought he was unable to learn.
Initially he was placed in special education classes. Barnett was acing college match and science courses at eight-years-old, after his mother took him out of special ed classes to homeschool him and help him follow his passions. At 13, the Indianapolis boy was a college sophomore taking honors classes in math and physics, while also doing scientific research and tutoring fellow students. He told 60 Minutes' Morley Safer autism "is the reason why I am in college and I am so successful." He is said to have a 170 IQ, higher than Einstein.
In 2015, he was a PhD student at the Perimeter Institute for Advanced Theoretical Physics in Canada.
At 5 years old, Ann Kagarise was told she would never graduate high school. By teaching herself how to learn, she went on to earn a master's degree. Kagarise has since written blogs, been a speaker and is an advocate for autism. She's worked as a director of a battered women's shelter, with kids who were abused, and women in the jail system. In addition, she has worked as a journalist for 8 years and authored a book.
Kagarise is currently the assistant director of IDEA House Educational Services, a school for children with autism, and a social studies teacher where she considers working with the kids both a joy and a privilege. She went from filing papers to leading meetings, working with parents and districts. Her ideas about how to transition young adults with autism into adulthood are helping to tap into the student's passions and teach hands-on skills.
"Whatever it takes, BUT excuses for NOT doing their work is not an option. The first time a student said to me that they couldn't do it because they had autism, they heard from me the old "I have autism too," speech and that I've never allowed that to hold me back," wrote Kagarise.
She truly leads by example. "I want them to see the struggles, but more importantly, I want them to see that I found a way around those obstacles and made it to success. I want them to see that nothing stops me."
Kerry Magro, 28, is an award-winning disability advocate, best-selling author, movie consultant, non-profit founder and full-time employee at Autism Speaks. Magro was completely non-verbal until the age of two and a half and was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old.
These days, Magro travels around the country as a motivational speaker and disability advocate. His speeches have included two TEDx Talks. In 2014, he received accreditation from the National Speakers Association as one of the only professionally certified speakers with autism in the country. Those speaking engagements led to a stint in TV hosting his own local cable show called the "Different is Beautiful Show," which focuses on people who overcome adversity.
Stephen Shore is a clinical assistant professor in the Ammon School of Education at Adelphi University in New York, where he focuses on special education. Shore developed a 12 credit certificate program at Adelphi for both teachers of students with autism and those in related fields such as social work and therapy.
Shore became a board member for Autism Speaks in December 2015 and speaks internationally about the unlimited potential for those on the autism spectrum. He is the author of "Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome."
In 2012, 15-year-old paralympic swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate became the first intellectually disabled Briton to win a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games. Applegate, who has Asperger's, achieved that success in the Women's 200m Freestyle S14 swimming event (S14 is the intellectual disability classification) while setting a paralympic world record on September 2, 2012.
In 2013, Applegate won a gold medal in the 200m freestyle, a silver in the 200 medley and a bronze in the 100m freestyle event at the IPC World Championships in Montreal.
New Zealand singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Phillipa Margaret "Pip" Brown, who performs as Ladyhawke, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2006 after what the Telegraph newspaper described as a lifelong shyness that turned into "severe depression and not being able to leave the house."
Brown exploded on the Kiwi music scene as a solo artist in 2009. She believes the syndrome had a lot to be with her intense absorption with music as a child. She told the Telegraph, "I try not to look at anyone in the audience or it will freak me out." She responds to the energy of her audience, though, saying that hearing the chants of her name feels amazing.
Brown, who took her stage name from the 1985 film "Ladyhawke," just returned to the music scene after fours year away, releasing a a new single, "A Love Song," from her new studio album, "Wild Things," which debuts June 3, 2016.
American anthropologist, primatologist and ethologist Dawn Prince-Hughes was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in high school. Her memoir, "Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey with Autism," is highly acclaimed.
The book describes how her early years of working at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, observing and interacting with silverback gorillas, helped her learn techniques to manage her condition. Working with gorillas helped her deal with her social isolation.
Prince-Hughes, who holds an M.A. and Ph.D., is associated with the Jane Goodall Institute and formerly served as the executive director of the Institute for Cognitive Archaeological Research.
Dr. Valerie Paradiz was not diagnosed till she was 40 years old, following the birth and diagnosis of her son, Elijah, who is now a young adult with Asperger's Syndrome. She authored a book, "Elijah's Cup," about her family's struggle with autism.
Paradiz is an autism activist who provides technical assistance and strategic development to educational institutions, businesses and agencies to support people on the spectrum. She also serves as executive director of the Autistic Global Initiative and as a national board member for Autism Speaks.
As author of "The Integrated Self-advocacy Curriculum: ISA" and head of the Center for Integrated Self-Advocacy, she educates people to train those on the spectrum to advocate for their needs. She is a strong believer in a greater understanding regarding a person's sensory triggers to better cope with behavioral problems.
Jacob Velazquez is an 8-year-old pianist from Florida who was diagnosed with a high functioning form of autism at age 4, a few months after he began playing. He has since performed on "The Steve Harvey Show," CNN, "Good Morning America," "The View," Telemundo, and elsewhere.
Perhaps the highlight of his young career was catching the attention of singer Taylor Swift in 2015, after Velazquez played a medley of seven songs from her most recent album in a YouTube video. The boy is a huge fan of the singer and began the video with an introduction for Swift: "I'm your biggest fan. I hope you can sign this for me one day," he said, holding up a deluxe version of Swift's "1989" album. "I hope we can jam and I created something for you and it goes a little something like this."
Swift responded with a tweet inviting him to a show on her tour, fueling his dreams of performing on stage with her one day. Meanwhile, he was recently asked to open a Miami Heat basketball game with the national anthem.
The incredibly accomplished kid just released his first album, entitled "Jacob," and has filmed two music videos. He loves being in the recording studio and dreams of becoming a music producer.
Anthony Ianni, diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD), an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), at age 4, is the first-ever person with ASD to play in Division I college basketball, suiting up for the Michigan State Spartans.
When he was a child, doctors told Ianni's parents he would barely graduate high school and college wasn't a possibility. They said he would likely end up living in a group home.
The boy, who was also told he would never be an athlete, eventually won two Big Ten Championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title, and received the 2012 Unsung Player Award.
Since graduating from college with a degree in sociology, he's worked with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, is a anti-bullying motivational speaker, and started a family.
Ianni credits Michigan basketball coach Tom Izzo for helping him become the person he is today.
Amy Gravino says that as a child she didn't receive early intervention for Asperger's since she was only diagnosed at age 11. The biggest challenge was the low expectations and lack of faith in her abilities that others had. She persevered, graduating from high school and going onto college where she thrived, earning both a B.A. and a master's degree. "I have overcome tremendous obstacles because I have worked hard to do so, not because I no longer have autism," wrote Gravino in a blog post.
Gravino, who has become a passionate speaker, a certified autism consultant and business coach, points out that autistic adults -- who are not necessarily cute, small, or more easily managed -- are given very little of the spotlight in comparison to autistic children. Autism is a lifelong condition and the challenges change as one gets older.
Michael McCreary, 20, from Ontario, Canada, is a stand up comedian on the autism spectrum. He wrote a 2015 book, "Autism: The Gift That Needs to be Opened." McCreary said he was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger's, and the one thing that stood out for him and his parents was that he talked too much. His parents suggested he write a journal, which he believes became his "first brush with comedy."
He trained with David Granirer, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, to create his comedy act, "Does This Make My Asperger's Look Big?" He has since performed across the U.S. and Canada. He describes himself as an Aspie comic.
Twenty-four-year-old Kiley Lyall runs marathons and was selected as the people's choice winner for Women's Running cover contest. She was diagnosed with autism at age three after suffering a Grand Mal seizure and her doctor noticing she had autistic signs.
She got into running at the age of 8 when when she was asked to run the final leg of a relay with all boys in the Special Olympics. Describing her love of running she explains, "I realized how much better running made me feel and all I wanted to do was keep racing." It helped her confidence a great deal as well, improving her socializing ability and communication. Sometimes starting races with large crowds is problematic for her. She now dreams of becoming a fitness model and photographer.
Lyall is most proud of finishing her first half marathon despite two bouts of Grande Mal seizures. She broke down not knowing if she could go on, but her coach, who herself was fighting breast cancer, came to finish the race with Lyall and her mom.
Her biggest advice to parents with autistic children is to pay attention to what makes them happy and excited and "introduce them to new activities related to their likes." It will help find out what they are best at.
Matthew Cottle moved from bagging groceries for six years to being the owner of Stuttering King Bakery, a home-based business producing baked goods for cafes, businesses and groups in the Phoenix area.
Cottle writes on his bakery's website that he knew the odds were against him as 91 percent of all autistic adults are unemployed, but he didn't let that deter him. He decided culinary school wasn't an option for him because traditional classrooms didn't suit his learning style so he went to the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) Vocational and Life Skills Academy CulinaryWorks program.
Cottle hopes to eventually open a brick-and-mortar bakery where he will be able to hire and teach others with autism.
For more information on autism spectrum disorders: Autism Speaks