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When he was 7, Taylor Cross was diagnosed with  autism — a complex brain disorder. Doctors said he might never walk or talk. "I sure showed them," were Taylor’s words when, at 15, he received two awards for his 10-minute documentary about autism. Now Taylor is 17, and has just finished working on a full-length version of his film, Normal People Scare Me. The movie will play in five U.S. cities during April, which is Autism Awareness month. Here is Taylor’s inspiring story — in his own words. It was recently printed in Scholastic’s Scope Magazine.

Understanding Autism
by Taylor Cross
age: 17

I can’t even describe autism that well to myself, let alone to someone else. But I know it’s a disorder affecting the brain, social skills, and how people connect with the world and the people in it. It could be a part of anybody you know, and yet you might not know about it. Autism affects people to varying degrees. I only have a certain degree of autism. There are many other kids who are lower functioning and there are some kids who are even higher functioning than I am.
I had problems with tantrums when I was little. They were pretty bad. In my younger years they happened so many times a day, I couldn’t count them. I would throw stuff around and trash the room. When I was very young, I banged my head. My face would get red. I would shake my fists tight up against my chest. I did this sort of thing until I was in middle school. My outbursts got better in the 8th and 9th grades, but I still had them. Sometimes my aides would have to get me out of class just so I could breathe slowly. I was very stubborn.
I still lose control sometimes, but it isn’t as big an issue as it was five or six years ago. It’s hard for me to focus sometimes, but I try to learn new things. I still have trouble talking to people and sometimes I just can’t get out what I want to say. That I can’t communicate as well as I’d like is a big challenge for me, and sometimes I confuse people by what I say, but hey, what fun is life without a little challenge? I have to focus hard even to write this. Ideas come easily, but words do not.
I’ve always wanted to make films. Originally, I worked on a 10-minute film that took about two to three months to produce. I interviewed five friends of mine who have autism. I love watching movies, so I thought it would be kind of fun to make this one!

I won some awards, including “Best Pick” at a high school film festival. I got to be on Paula Zahn Now on CNN, and a PBS special was made about the film. Some newspaper articles were written and [singer] Clay Aiken gave me an award for being a “Champion of Change.” Lots of people who saw the movie wrote to me and told me I helped them
to understand the disorder, and that they wanted to learn more.
That’s how the 10-minute film led to the feature. I didn’t expect it to go this far! It just got popular enough that the producers of the short movie thought it would be great as a feature-length film. I’d simply like people to know as much as they can about autism and eventually accept others who are different from them. I’d also like people to help others when they see them struggle, and not make fun of kids with disabilities since they usually have pretty hard lives. My dream is for people with autism to be accepted into society.
There is no secret to my success. I only followed my dream. I got really lucky. I had a really interesting subject and I had a lot of backing. When it comes to something that I know I want to do, I can be pretty determined. And then, there’s my mom. She never let me get too comfortable in taking the easy way out because she taught me I had to work harder to find my way.
My advice to other teens is to ask yourselves, “What is normal, anyway?” and to aspire to achieve more than you think you can.

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