At age 4, Xavier DeGroat was diagnosed with autism. He endured years of bullying, discrimination, and educational and career setbacks.
“Throughout elementary school, I faced many obstacles and was misunderstood by my peers and teachers. I was bullied by my classmates because they knew that I was different from others. I was also disciplined many times by school administrators for miscommunications,” DeGroat said. “This was a period of time with a lot of change in the perception of what autism is and what those who are diagnosed are capable of.”
DeGroat decided to flip the switch and take control by dedicating his life to helping others. He began to visit local leaders and be a catalyst for thoughtful discussions to raise awareness about autism. That work gave him the confidence to develop a bigger plan to educate society on autism and also enable those with autism to achieve success in personal, educational and career-related goals.
The Delta Township resident established the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation (XDAF) in 2018 with the help of his attorney, David Gregory of the Kelley-Cawthorne law firm. The foundation has a mission of creating and promoting opportunities for people with autism through advocacy, education, economic opportunities and humanitarian efforts.
A winner of the Citizens of the Year award from Delta Township in October 2018, DeGroat wanted to do much more.
“As a person on the autism spectrum I have been looking to increase autism awareness, and we’re just now getting started in mid-Michigan,” DeGroat said, “But it takes local institutions in the Lansing regional area to create awareness proclamations to begin the process and work together as a team of leaders. Much like Kellie Dean, CEO of Dean Transportation, does with the city of Lansing for the Lansing Promise.”
Delta Township is a big part of making DeGroat’s goal come to fruition. Officials and XDAF worked together to plant the seeds of growth, and the township became the first to sign a proclamation to recognize April 2 as International Autism Awareness Day. The township also proclaimed the month of April as National Autism Awareness Month. By signing the proclamation, Delta Township was the first mid-Michigan local municipality to show its support of those with autism on that level.
“International Autism Awareness Day has been recognized for years by the United Nations on April 2, as well as National Autism Awareness Month,” DeGroat said. “Yet many local governments don’t recognize its importance as they do other awareness months, so I inspired Delta Township to do a proclamation to recognize the importance of providing autism awareness.”
The proclamation was signed March 18 by Delta Township Supervisor Ken Fletcher and the Delta Township board of trustees.
It’s been a busy year for DeGroat and the foundation. The first annual XDAF annual autism awareness dinner was scheduled for April with plans for marked growth by 2020. He plans to push forward with getting recognition from other townships and pursue continued autism awareness.
“I will begin my process of asking all other local area governments to do the same, including Ingham County, Eaton and Meridian townships, and beyond,” DeGroat said. He would also like to see those townships hold an annual dinner like the one in Delta Township, as well.
DeGroat’s inspirations include Magic Johnson, Michigan State University football coach Mark Dantonio and others in high-profile positions who also spend time serving their communities. With the amount of work he’s putting in as an ambassador for autism awareness and the influential connections he has made, it’s safe to say his chances of continued success are high.
To contact DeGroat and find out more information about the proclamation or his foundation, visit xavierdegroatfoundation.org.