Colorado Man Debunks Autism Stereotypes, Leading by Example

fort collins man debunking autism stereotypes

Image source: Erin Hull/The Coloradoan


Sam Lawrence spent about half of his life with the developmental ability of a toddler. Now, the 23 year old holds two AA degrees as well as a place on the Phi Theta Kappa All-Colorado Academic Team.

Diagnosed with ASD when he was 2 1/2, Lawrence was already noticeably behind in his development. He spent his days in dark rooms in which his parents dimmed the lights to prevent sensory overload. His mother Janice Lawrence likens her son’s experience to being in a coma.

As a young adult, Sam’s accomplishments have been numerous. He has won awards for his black and white photography, and recently submitted an academic paper giving a deep analysis on the societal problems that autistics face. In the paper, he speaks out against school programs that encourage autistics to take low level jobs while discouraging higher education. Society’s expectation for children with autism is low, he says, and that needs to change.

Sam has also started his own online petition calling for better care of young people with ASD. In this petition, he asks the state of Colorado to provide more coverage for children and adults with autism up until they reach age 30. If they do not receive the care they need, Sam says they will “fall through the cracks.” The special attention Sam’s parents gave to him throughout his struggles is what prevented this from happening to him.

After extensive therapy, Lawrence learned advanced mathematics and now excels at algebra. After finishing up his second associate’s degree, he plans on transferring to CSU for further study.

Lawrence now spends much of his free time volunteering at a recreation center through the Fort Collins Adaptive Recreation Opportunities program, where he helps people suffering from a variety of ailments to conquer their personal struggles.

Sam and his parents believe that many people on the autistic spectrum are full of potential and they work to help others recognize this. His mother Janice believes that their lack of normal communication and social skills causes people to miss their strengths and abilities. As a young child, Sam could ski, use a compass, and complete puzzles despite being developmentally behind on other areas.

Now an adult, Sam still has issues with meeting new people, and his short responses come off as socially avoidant at times. He has elected to take his college courses online so he can minimize the stigma he faced in classrooms. Though he still works through his weaknesses every day, Sam is finding success in life by applying himself in areas that he excels in. He is hoping that through his community service, he can help others do the same.

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