Aspie takes Jefferson to heart, Washington, D.C.

The Joplin Globe Reports:

Christopher Grills plans to spend the Fourth of July wearing a wig and black shoes with buckles. The 13-year-old Joplin resident will pretend to be Thomas Jefferson in front of the real Declaration of Independence in Washington, D.C.

Christopher recommends the book “Diagnosing Jefferson” to those interested in learning more about the past president. Christopher said the book describes the probability that Jefferson had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, which Christopher also has.

Christopher, a Joplin resident who attends school in Seneca, took his presentation – “Thomas Jefferson’s Role in the Exploration and Exchange of the Louisiana Territory” – to the regional, state and national History Day competitions. Grills took 10th place in his age category at the national contest in Washington, D.C.

Following the contest, the National Archives and Records Administration invited him to perform his winning presentation three times on July 4.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’” Christopher said of learning about the invitation.

“Christopher has always been interested in Revolutionary history,” his father, Dr. Jeffrey Grills said.

Christopher’s mother, Heather Grills, said his favorite show was “Liberty Kids,” a historical children’s program on PBS. But her son’s life is not all history.

“In his free time he plays his GameBoy,” she said.

For Christopher, choosing Jefferson as the subject of his project made sense.

“The topic for History Day was exploration, encounter and exchange,” he said. “Thomas Jefferson was a great idea because of the way he explored ideas and exchanged letters.”

Christopher recommends the book “Diagnosing Jefferson” to those interested in learning more about the past president. Christopher said the book describes the probability that Jefferson had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, which Christopher also has.

“(Jefferson) has a lot of things in common with me,” Christopher said.

During the past few months, he researched letters Jefferson wrote, read books about him and even visited Monticello, Jefferson’s former home.

Jefferson kept records on everything, even down to how much salt he put on his food.

“He used to write six or eight hours a day,” Christopher said.

If Jefferson were alive today, he’d be “overjoyed” at ballpoint pens, typewriters, computers – any method that facilitates writing, Christopher said.

“He was a very scientific person,” he said.

Dressing up as Jefferson requires many layers of clothing, including a vest over his clothes that Christopher said Jefferson wore because he liked the pressure around his torso. The costume “can be bit stuffy sometimes,” Christopher said, but “it’s very special.”

During his short trip to Washington D.C., Christopher said he hopes to visit the International Spy Museum “and any other memorials I haven’t seen.”

Like Jefferson, “I get interested in every little thing, too. I’ll point out all the places I want to visit,” he said.

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