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Pittsburgh Man With Autism Shares Story Of Struggle At International Conference

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A Pittsburgh man diagnosed with autism had the opportunity to share his story of struggle.

After Dan Hackett was diagnosed with autism at 17 years old, he never imagined his life being where it is today.

"I always knew even from a very early age that there was something different about me," Hackett said.

Eight years after being diagnosed, Hackett said he hit his lowest point.

He was unemployed with low self-worth and said he often felt disconnected and misunderstood. It was at that point that Hackett said a miracle happened.

He gained support through the Youth Advocate Programs' office in Pittsburgh. The organization helps and empowers the most vulnerable young people, adults, and families in the U.S. and abroad.

"I remember thinking this individual needs to be out there in the community, so he can be a great impact," Director for Youth Advocate Programs Brian Kluchurosky said.

Hackett helped create Pittverse Magazine, a quarterly publication written by people on the autism spectrum.

Hackett was also featured in "The Rain Man Effect," a documentary about how autism is often misunderstood and the difficulties in finding a job.

Then the opportunity to go to Milan came about.

"Dan started to have a real ability to be advocated for autism," Kluchurosky said. "He was able to talk about the stigma and impact and things he felt needed to change."

The Youth Advocate Programs asked Dan to speak at the European Social Services Conference in front of 70-plus people in June, when he shared his personal story, his struggles and how he found value in himself.

"To realize my story could have an international impact was extremely humbling," Hackett said.

Dan is high-functioning and lives alone, thanks to the help of the Youth Advocate Programs. However, he still has trouble finding work and said that's one thing he hopes will get easier for people who have autism.

"I know I can't let my autism diagnoses define who I am. I can live the life I want," Hackett said.

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