The Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation (XDAF) was officially formed in early 2018; however, the idea has been in the works for a long time. The foundation has become a passion-project for Xavier DeGroat, who has been traveling the globe to unofficially advocate for those with autism for years.
The mission of the XDAF is to provide support to individuals and families of those with autism by providing them with opportunities to become economically, socially and politically successful. The foundation is dedicated to advocating on behalf of those with autism, which could mean pushing for equal treatment in employment and housing or combatting other injustices against those with the diagnosis.
The XDAF kicked off its official advocacy campaign June 8 at its inaugural picnic. This event was attended by members of the Lansing community and served as an introduction to the foundation and its goals.
In the future, with the help of the XDAF, the Greater Lansing area will launch a local autism awareness day called “Lansing for Autism.” This event will take place on the first Friday of every April, which is Autism Awareness Month. The XDAF also is planning a national rally to take place on Capitol Hill in 2020 to bring national attention to the injustices that those with autism currently face.
Founder and CEO, DeGroat has traveled across America to meet with leaders in various areas. From politicians to celebrities, sports legends, journalists and influential activists, DeGroat has met with them and educated them on issues that exist in their industry or community. Some of the many influential people that have shown support for DeGroat’s cause include: the Dalai Lama, Stephen Hawking, Muhammad Ali, George Lopez, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dan Marino.
DeGroat was diagnosed with autism at an early age, but he has not let that stop him from defining his own identity. From his elementary years up through high school, he endured bullying, harassment and discrimination. He and his family have always known that he would become his own leader, as he was a very driven and tenacious child; they never imagined that he would have the platform to become a global advocate for those with autism. His platform has surprised members in his community, leading them to ask how a person like DeGroat can “travel all over the country and speak as well” as he does. That way of thinking is not uncommon and demonstrates how misunderstood autism is.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child of every 59 in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. With the increase in prevalence, there is an increased need for support and research. Since autism has a wide spectrum of symptoms, it’s a complicated issue in the medical research field and in society in general.
Autism is a complex disorder. The average person has a hard time knowing exactly what autism means and cannot understand the thought processes of those with autism. As Dr. Temple Grandin said, “Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy. They have good emotional empathy, but they don’t have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can’t stand the sensory overload.”
Those with autism are frequently denied economic opportunities and the chance to truly be financially independent. They are often not seen as capable members of the workforce, which is simply not true. Individuals with autism are often more than capable of performing the same jobs as those without autism; they just operate in a different manner. Because of a perceived lack of competency, these individuals miss out on job opportunities, housing opportunities and have little access to capital.
Discrimination is also prevalent in social and political institutions. Those with autism have a harder time getting accepted to four-year universities and other institutions. The lack of education leads to a harder time finding a well-paying job, which leads to relying on social programs like Medicaid and welfare services to survive. The lack of opportunities open to those with autism is an issue in civil rights, as they are seen as unequal members of our society. There’s little political advocacy for those with autism, which means that their needs are being lumped in with other diagnoses, such as in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Autism is a very different kind of condition, and we are still in the beginning stages of understanding it. DeGroat and his newly formed foundation are dedicated to helping the rest of the world truly understand that those with autism can lead full and meaningful lives that go above and beyond their condition.