TMCNet:  Teen uses experience to become autism advocate

[October 21, 2010]

Teen uses experience to become autism advocate

Oct 21, 2010 (The Capital – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) — When Taylor Morris was a toddler, her future didn’t look particularly full of hope.

At 2, she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, which includes a range of conditions, and her mother, Robin Rice, was told her daughter might never talk, or leave home.

Fifteen years later, Taylor is the one dispensing hope to other autistic children and their families. Through her online videos and advocacy, the 17-year-old Annapolis High School senior is describing the ways the diagnosis has shaped her experiences, and how she copes with everyday life.

"The big thing is when you associate with her, you get the feeling that you’re part of a very special story that has been written and is still being written," said Philip Greenfield, one of her teachers.

Taylor, who is in the International Baccalaureate program, National Honor Society and runs track, wants to be a chemist and is in the process of deciding where to apply to college. She’s also continuing a video blog and website she began last winter about her life, as well as work that includes public speaking and involvement in two autism-awareness fashion shows.

Recently, Taylor was selected as a collegiate spokesperson for the Autism Women’s Network, which entails postingmore video blogs about everything from the application process to her time on campus once she begins school.

"I’m so impressed by her," said Sharon daVanport, executive director of the New York-based support organization. "She’s able to coordinate so much, and she’s just 17." Taylor’s existing videos have been viewed about 112,000 times.

"The biggest hope for people is that they’ll take the initiative and learn more about autism," she explained. "It’s not a death sentence." The Davidsonville teen initially decided to talk about her life after having a discussion with her mother about ways to do community service. Neither realized how popular an approach it would become.

"We had no idea," said Rice, a writer and mentor to women leaders. "I mean, it was literally 1,000 views in a couple of days and 10,000 views in a month. We didn’t expect it at all. Parents were just passing it around to everyone they knew." World of her own One of the first things Taylor explains in her initial video is that she felt trapped because she couldn’t communicate. She was locked in her own world.

"Natural communication, natural socials skills have to be taught," she says.

Taylor still visits her own world, usually when she paces back and forth around the house for an hour or two each day, as time allows. She might jump, or tap something, too. The behavior is a stress-reliever, she said.

"I’m happy to realize I’m Taylor Morris in this world," she explained. "I’m nowhere near as cool as the people in my world, but they’re not real." Taylor, who used some special education services through third grade, said she learns differently from other students, and has trouble recognizing fine social cues. When someone asks her how they look, for example, she’ll really tell them.

Still, Taylor’s good at blending in. So good, in fact, that many of Taylor’s friends and teachers were shocked when they saw her videos. They had no idea of her past. Greenfield said he was "stunned." "I was slightly surprised," added Cassi Lyon, 18, a fellow senior at Annapolis High. "(But) I think it’s great. It’s nice to see that Taylor is showing that it can be OK. I think she’s a really great person and inspiring, and I’m glad to be her friend." When Taylor went back and viewed her initial video, however, it was a bit of an eye-opener. "I almost see that I’m more autistic than I think I am," she said.

Rice said her daughter "didn’t realize how much she was hiding until she was free to show it. Now, she feels more relaxed." Officially, Taylor doesn’t have a diagnosis anymore. After she was identified as being on the autism spectrum, Rice did a lot of research. She took her daughter off all milk products, which she said started her daughter on the path to improvement.

"(Autism) makes you different," Taylor said. "But it can be a blessing … There’s room for us to be successful and I want to bring out that message." To learn more about Taylor Morris and watch some of her videos, visit her website Her videos are also on [email protected] To see more of The Capital or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Capital, Annapolis, Md. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit, e-mail [email protected], or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).

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