LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — This week 6 News is beginning a series called, “Understanding the Puzzle,” which showcases the efforts in Mid-Michigan to raise awareness and build acceptance for people with Autism. This is the first of our series.

Xavier Degroat was diagnosed with autism at 4-years-old. He said growing up with that diagnosis had its challenging moments.

Degroat is working towards making a positive change in his community by building awareness about this disorder around the country. He doesn’t want those with autism to face discrimination, like he did growing up.

“All kinds of people say, I heard of autism, but do they really accept autism,” Degroat said.

He says he was teased and harassed in school. According to Degroat, some of his teachers didn’t fully understand how to communicate with him properly.

“A lot of kids would think because I had different ways of expressing myself and coping skills, with light or with sound or big crowds, that I was weak and dumb, but I’m not dumb,” Degroat said.

Degroat believes to accept autism, you need to understand what it is.

According to the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism can cause significant social, communicative and behavioral challenges.

“It’s typically called an Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD because the variation of presentation is huge,” Mary Kisting, Sparrow Clinical Nurse Specialist Mary Kisting said.

The CDC’s 2020 data shows one in 54 children have ASD, which has increased over the years.

According to experts, symptoms or signs can be different in each child or adult.

“Children will come in and be extremely sensitive to bright lights,” Kisting said. “Another child, it may be sound that may affects them. Others may be sensitive to different sensory things.”

Kisting says this can change the way someone with autism processes information and also it changes their needs. She says this can impact their communication and they tend to take certain aspects very literally. She went on to add, sometimes there can be the perception that people with autism are less able.

“I would like to emphasize they are not less. It is different and some of their capabilities are amazing. Their ability to process numbers, their ability to see things and identify are beyond what the average person is able to do.

Mary Kisting, Sparrow Clinical Nurse Specialist Mary Kisting said.

Now as an adult, Degroat hopes to get people to understand this.

“We all need to respect autism as it is, not for how you look at it,” Degroat said.

In 2018, he started his own non-profit organization called the Xavier Degroat Autism Foundation.

Degroat has personally helped individuals find resources locally to succeed and avoid experiencing what he went through.

Degroat travels the country meeting celebrities, scientists, and politicians and informs them about the challenges those with autism face, as well as advocating for people like him.

“A person on the spectrum is quite remarkable as long as society as a whole accepts them,” Degroat said.