EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSUNDERSTANDING AUTISM
from Eyewitness News Online
Local Boy Overcomes Obstacles With Autism
Reported by: Katy Brown
Videographer: Troy Morgan
Web Producer: Katy Brown
Reported: Feb. 27, 2013 5:22 PM EST
Updated: Feb. 28, 2013 10:52 AM EST
Dunbar , Kanawha County , West Virginia
Mental disabilities, in particular autism, have dominated the headlines in recent months.
After two mass shootings, the first in Aurora, CO. where a gunman opened fire in a movie theater.
Then in Newtown, CT. where a suspect killed dozens of young children and educators.
The shooters in both of these horrific crimes reportedly suffered from forms of autism. But mental health experts say the disease isn't the reason for the crimes.
"When we see any type of aggression with maybe an autistic child, it's typically young children, it's like a temper tantrum," said psychologist, Dr. Timothy Saar, "It's not premeditated. It's not 'these are the guns I'm going to use. This is the area I'm going.' So there is no correlation between the aspergers and these shootings. And it's an injust to these particular population to make that."
Dylan Spradling has been battling autism since he was a young child. He's now 17 years old and a student at South Charleston High School.
"He's a happy child now," said Dylan's grandmother, Pat Spradling.
She said "when [Dylan] was younger, he had issues. He was 'normal' up until he was about two years old."
After being diagnosed with a type of autism called aspergers syndrome, his grandfather says life for Dylan was difficult.
Kids were "punching on him, pushing him around because he's different. And Dylan wouldn't, thank God he didn't know what he knows now, but he didn't know how to defend himself," said Dylan's grandfather, Larry, "He didn't know how to take it. He took it as he was doing wrong, but what [is he] doing wrong?"
It was then that Dylan decided to become a warrior in training at Dunbar's BCI Martial Arts Studio.
He said he did it for one reason.
"To learn how to defend myself," said Dylan, "I got picked on and stuff."
When Dylan was younger, a psychologist told Pat and Larry that nothing was wrong with their grandson and that Dylan was just a mean kid and would be in jail by the time he was 18.
But instead of taking that road, Dylan has learned to use martial arts as an outlet.
"It is something he can share with his peers and not be kind of left out," said Saar, "And so it's wonderful in regards to that. Teaches him discipline. Teaches him self skill."
"They want to be accepted," said martial arts instructor, Ernie Boggs, "If you don't put them on your team, they'll find their own team."
Boggs said ever since Dylan entered the classroom at BCI, Dylan has become an inspiration to all.
"When he goes to a tournament he just isn't an opponent, his beating a lot of things out there that most fighters don't have to put up with," said Boggs, "They get hope from Dylan. He doesn't have to win, although he is winning on the mat, he doesn't have to be. All he has to do is step on the mat."
Dylan has won several martial arts tournaments since he began studying the sport.
But for his grandfather, Larry, it's not the amount of Dylan's wins or trophies that mean the most.
It's moments where he sees acceptance of Dylan from his from competitors, whether they win or lose.
"What I liked about it, when we got ready to leave," said Larry, "The kid hugged him, he said 'You're awesome'."
An acceptance the Spradling's hope other children with autism will also experience.
"Just because you have autism doesn't mean you're going to go get a gun and shoot a guy," said Larry
"Treat these kids like normal children. Don't be afraid of them," said Pat, "They're normal. They're a human being."
Human beings with a future.
"I can be anybody I want to be," said Dylan, "It's ok to be autistic."
Dylan is just one of many children who deal with the mental disorder.
According to the organization, Austim Speaks, one of every 88 children are affected.
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