Former White House intern opens autism museum in Michigan

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ASPartOfMe
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12 Feb 2022, 10:52 pm

Fox News

Quote:
Xavier DeGroat, who made history as a White House intern with autism, is making his mark once again by opening up a museum in Michigan dedicated to the history of autism.

DeGroat, a 31-year-old Lansing resident who interned for President Trump, celebrated the grand opening of his Autism History Museum on Feb. 4. He hopes the museum will raise public awareness and serve as a welcoming community space for both kids and adults.

"There's never been an autism history museum like this," DeGroat told Fox News Digital.

He had an assist in opening the museum from legendary former MSU football coach Mark Dantonio, who along with his wife, Becky, donated money to kickstart the project.

DeGroat made national headlines in 2020 when he landed an internship at the White House under Trump. He is believed to be the first person who disclosed an autism diagnosis to intern at the White House.

His new museum is within a mall storefront space that houses the offices for his foundation as well as a timeline of the sometimes painful history of autism, starting in the 1900s.

Autism used to be labeled a part of schizophrenia and then mental retardation, and some were even considered "devils by society," DeGroat said. Nonetheless, people on the spectrum and those who had signs of autism, but were never fully diagnosed have had a "profound" impact on society, including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Greta Thunberg and Elon Musk, he said.

There was a lot of negative history but a lot of positive history about autism too and that's what I'm showing," DeGroat said.

DeGroat is happy the museum is in the mall, which is a gathering space for students and families. And the Meridian Mall has embraced the new partnership, too.

DeGroat started the Lansing-based Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation in 2018 to help others with autism overcome obstacles and he's already used that platform to change public policy on a national and local level.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law in 2020 bipartisan legislation that DeGroat had sought to allow state driver’s licenses and license plates to indicate to law enforcement that an individual has autism or a communication impediment.

DeGroat also successfully worked with Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Michael Burgess, R-Texas, on a bipartisan letter to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to recognize the state ID cards that indicate someone has a communication impediment. The added information will alert TSA agents on how to accommodate people with autism who may have sudden reactions to the sounds, stress and touch associated with airline security.

Diagnosed with autism at age 4 and misunderstood for much of his childhood, DeGroat had a rough time in school. He was bullied and called names like "retard." His peers would egg him on to do things, like shooting rubber bands in class, that landed him in trouble. In high school, as he struggled to cope and had lots of anxiety, he found some respite at the library, where he started reading up on influential leaders.

At 18, his dad started taking him regularly to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich, where DeGroat would dream of working there and one day become a curator.

Now that he has a museum of his own, DeGroat hopes people can appreciate others' unique individual traits and not count them out because of a perceived disability.

"I want people to know that autism is just a label," he said. "And that does not define that person."


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“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


autisticelders
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14 Feb 2022, 7:48 am

It is good to have "the rest of the story". My local small town Michigan paper posted a very edited and revised edition of this article. Thanks once again for your work in posting autism news.


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