“If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.”

Tommy is so happy to share his story with others, and we are thrilled to know that Tommy’s online presence contributes to new understandings of autism, and makes other feel they have a new friend with Autism!  When we have a friend different from us, we gain a new perspective.  We see the world through a new lens, and embrace diversity and celebrate difference.  We are so glad to know you’ve joined Tommy and his journey!

Tommy was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years of age.  He walked at 8 months, and was always very physically active and unstoppable- climbing, exploring, and jumping on his trampoline!  He was always very determined, able, and cheerful, provided he was able to follow his own agenda!  He loved trains, and liked to line things up, one of the earliest signs of his Autism.

His brother Paul, two years older, was always a wonderful brother and friend to him.  His grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, friends, speech language pathologists, workers and teachers were, and still are, also a huge support to Tommy, and his parents.  Picture symbols (PECS), Disney videos, books, and many computer programs such as KidWorks and Living Books CDroms all helped Tommy at an early age.

However, at age 5, he was still non verbal, and professionals said he was unlikely to ever speak.  His meltdowns, which always resulted from communication breakdowns, were intense and frequent, involving much self injury.  At this point, Tommy’s family took him to Los Angeles for one month of ABA therapy, as it was not yet available in Canada, and they had tried everything available to Tommy in Ottawa.  The ABA therapists there also felt he was unlikely to speak, due to his Dyspraxia.

But the written word was a huge strength for Tommy, and through the use of pictures as a communication system (PECS), books, and computer he began to read and type many words before he spoke!    Although he had spoken very occasional words, he remained mainly non verbal until about age 7, when very gradually began to speak, yet the words came slowly.  The Eureka moment when he discovered the subtitles on his DVD Disney movies at age 8 led to a new phase where his movies helped him develop even more language. His speech continued to grow and change, very slowly, throughout the rest of his childhood and teen years, as he worked to overcome his dyspraxia (difficulty with the motor control involved in producing speech). But the fact that Tommy could read and type words before he could speak was very important- the written word has supported his ability to learn to speak, over time.  And, amazingly, the Disney movies’ subtitles truly helped him learn language.  We are grateful to Disney for the gift of language the movies have brought to Tommy throughout his life.

These movies also satisfied Tommy’s love of stories.  Tommy’s imagination is incredible, and he began dictating or typing his own stories at age 8, when he still could not speak in sentences yet.  He filled dozens of binders with his stories over the years.

At age 13, in 2005, he began dictating about his life in a blog, until beginning to use Facebook in 2008 at age 16, which he now enjoys immensely.  He also discovered YouTube and asked to have videos about his life posted there, so we created his channel, “lookyus” in 2006.  Tommy now has friends all over the world who found him on YouTube, and friended him on Facebook.  Tommy’s language and social skills continue to grow, helped by technology and all the amazing, wonderful friends he shares his life with daily.

We are working on preparing videos from Tommy’s childhood to upload to his YouTube channel soon.  These videos show how Tommy’s Autism progressed through the years.  Check back in the New Year!

4 thoughts on “Autism”

  1. Dear Tommy and Mary-Ann,

    In response to your blog on May 12, 2014, I’m glad to see Tommy is proving to inspire others just like Terry Fox even though their challenges were different, if not, just as daunting!

    In the video in which Tommy tells Ariel’s story to her, I was amazed at how accurately he summed up “The Little Mermaid” in 9 minutes! (A true storyteller, like
    Hans Christian Andersen) Also, his skills with dates numerical figures are a gift that I also have! (Lewis Carol was a mathematician by trade, you’ll have to excuse my tendency to bring up those 2 authors on the autism spectrum whenever I make contact, I just feel that it’s the best way to familiarize myself with you guys; it’s symptomatic of my autism. I am a broken record personified)
    Anyways, I felt I should acknowledge that I did post a comment on Tommy’s video in which he recounts his misadventure of getting lost in Iceland mentioning that there is a particular cigarette smoker who brought him joy and happiness in his life, and that cigarette smoker was: Walt Disney.

    Furthermore, Mary-Ann, do you recall the link to my friend’s Facebook page (she has a son who is Autistic and a Disney enthusiast too!),
    her daughter has a Facebook page too!
    On the day of her Prom, she looked just like Anna in her coronation dress from “Frozen”

    Best Wishes,


  2. Dear Brad,

    This is MaryAnn, Tommy’s mom 🙂

    It means more than I can say to have you compare Tommy to Terry Fox <3 and I agree that although their challenges were very different, they both share a determination and attitude of not allowing obstacles to deter them in their dreams! Thank you for your kind words.

    It is true that Tommy certainly is amazing in how he is able to sum up entire movies, and that he has the heart of a storyteller, indeed!
    That's aweome to hear that you share his skills with dates and numerical figures! Also, Tommy loves Lewis Carol, and used to recite The Walrus and the Carpenter by heart a while back. He loves that poem!

    Your autism sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing your joy in so many things 🙂

    So, I would like to thank you sooo much for your comment on Tommy’s video where he describes getting lost in Iceland. We shared your comment with Tommy about how Walt was a cigarette smoker! It seemed a genius way to help him continue to note that smokers are usually wonderful people 🙂 And here is what is funny: He has now decided that all smokers should make movies, to be more like Walt 🙂 🙂

    Thanks for the link to your friend’s Facebook page. She really does look so much like Anna in “Frozen”!
    Do you follow Tommy's facebook page? Please say hi on the wall, and Tommy will answer you directly!
    It is wonderful to meet you. Thanks so much for your message, it made us really happy.

    Yours in Autism Friendship,

  3. Dear Tommy and Mary Ann
    I was deeply moved by your Disney characters meet and greets. I was so happy that the actors interacted with tommy as a normal person. I have high functioning autism. I found out I did in 2013 when I was 23. I also think tommy is very lucky to have so much support. I’m a novice writer myself well I like to think I am. I’ve been writing stories since I was young like tommy. I found his story very inspiring. And I love Disney too. I love the jungle book and I used to pretend I was mowgli. I learned a lot from Disney. I myself haven’t been to Disneyworld. But I’ll go one day. I was also so moved when tommy showed his medal to all the characters during the parade. And his story on the bottom. I cried because it was so moving and inspiring. I wish I had his confidence. By the way I was wondering what is a autism assistance dog does? I didn’t know that much about autism before I was diagnosed but I think tommy is right autism is friendship.

    From Sarah 

    1. Hi Sarah, We are so very, very happy to know that you connected with Tommy’s story! It is amazing how much you and Tommy have in common. I will show Tommy your message. This is his mom, MaryAnn. And yes, the characters are so wonderfully kind to Tommy. The moment he shared his medal with them was so magical. Tommy loves the Jungle Book so much, like you. If you want to know more about his dog, there are links at the Autism Dog section of this site, to videos where we talk about her role in his life. Or just search his channel with “guide dog” and you will find lots! Mainly she is a safety dog, and helps him cope with anxiety, interact with others, and many other things. Best wishes to you, and thanks for writing! Hugs oxox

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