Autism Advocate, Marcus Boyd, and His Commitment to Changing the Narrative on Autism
Writer: LeKeisha Edwards
If you’re in search of a story of inspiration, a testimony of triumph, or a reminder of how limitless the boundaries of your dreams are, then autism advocate, or as he proudly proclaims, activist, Marcus Boyd, has a powerfully impactful one for you. In a world where much of the media covers the glitz and glam of movie stars and singers, Boyd has managed to blaze a trail in the media, appearing in magazines, television interviews, and more, all in an effort to bring awareness and change the narrative on those around the world living with autism, a spectrum disorder that according to national organization, Autism Speaks, encompasses a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Boyd has lived with autism all of his life, but manages to take hold of the disorder, rather than allow the disorder to take hold of him. Born in 1983, and raised between his birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia, and Brooklyn, New York, Boyd suffered abuse as a child, was placed in foster care, and for a time, even experienced homelessness. As a testament to faith and perseverance, Boyd was able to rise above the flames and turn the disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States, into a superpower.
In this interview filled with moments of hope, determination, and wisdom, Boyd talks to Upscale about his perseverance through trials to reach triumph, being featured in Forbes magazine, and why individuals living with autism have no bounds.
Upscale: When did you realize you had autism? What was that like?
Marcus Boyd: As a toddler, I knew I was different from my other siblings. I was non-verbal and my emotional behaviors were not the same.
Upscale: What was your experience with your parents like when they observed that your behaviors were different than your other siblings?
Boyd: It was really difficult to get love and affection from my father. He actually thought that my mother must have cheated on him, because he did not want to believe that he would produce a son that had the challenges I did. He would get mad because I was unable to do things like, catch a football or dribble a basketball. Sometimes he would curse at me, yell, hit or kick me in the face. I didn’t start talking until I was almost thirteen or fourteen years old, so much of the abuse I suffered from my father as a child, I had no response for and simply learned to live with.
Upscale: How does that make you feel?
Boyd: Like most children, I wanted my father to love me. I wanted him to care for me and show compassion towards me when I had challenges. He refused to give me hugs or take time with me. There were times he pushed me off of him, spit on me, or fussed with my mother for not keeping me in the room away from him when he came home from work. But I came to understand my father was just a different man. He did not know how to show compassion towards a disability. He already had so much responsibility providing for my other siblings, and here I am, this one child, that was different and required more.
Upscale: Despite the abuse you suffered, the grace you appear to have for your father is extraordinary. Some tend to think that individuals living with autism feel or understand things differently, but you show us all that there is a misconception regarding the feelings or awareness that those living with autism have.
Boyd: Yes, I felt it all. I felt the rejection. I also understood that my father wanted his son to be like all the other kids. It is important for the world to learn that individuals living with autism may have challenges, but we desire and search for things, like comfort and family, just as any other human being.
Upscale: You were ultimately placed in foster care, correct?
Boyd: Yes, I ended up in the hospital and Ms. Carr, a friend of my mother’s and a social worker for the Department of Children and Family Services, came to the hospital and took me to her home. She took time with me and really showed me what love and attention feels like. She knew I was non-verbal, and would look for signs of what I needed or wanted. So if I tapped or made a sound, she knew I may for example, want a certain thing for breakfast, or need help with something.
Upscale: Did you spend much of your life in foster care?
Boyd: I was with Ms. Carr for several months, but while in the foster care system, I was often overlooked because most of the families did not want to take in a dark-skinned, chubby kid, that had behavioral challenges.
Upscale: Regardless of that harsh reality, you endured some of the difficulties of the foster care system and even experienced homelessness for a time. You discuss your journey further in your award-winning mini-movie called The Boy with No Voice. It won two film awards in India, which is incredible. What is something you would say the world does not see or comprehend about individuals living with autism?
Boyd: We are not lab experiments. We are human beings and we can do anything we put our minds to. I was non-verbal most of my young life, but now I am able to speak fluently. With the right resources, support, action, and faith in God, a diagnosis of autism is not a negative. It is actually a different type of superpower because we can do incredible things in unique ways.
Upscale: What advice would you give to parents or families that have a loved one that has been diagnosed with autism?
Boyd: Do not immediately see the diagnosis as a limitation. Look at your child with love and tell yourself, ‘Ok. We are about to roll up our sleeves and do the work.’ Autism is not a crutch on our lives or abilities. We just have to find alternative ways to make things happen and reach success.
Upscale: Would you say that learning new ways to communicate is one of the greatest tools a parent can have?
Boyd: With an autism diagnosis, your child is now enrolled in a new school, and parents must realize that they are now a student too. Both the child and parents are approaching this new experience and the best starting point is observation. Observe your child. Learn their behaviors and how he or she reacts to certain things. There are times your patience will be tested and tried, but God says he will never put more on you then you can bear. The communication has to come from a place of understanding. You cannot communicate with your child if you are not willing to understand what your child is going through. Find a balance between support and allowing for independence so he or she can learn about the world.
Upscale: Along with the mini-movie, and countless interviews you have done for television and magazines, you tapped into your passion for music and set an example for others that their aspirations really are boundless, regardless of the condition. How did you become a music producer?
Boyd: I always had a deep love for music and was exposed to it at a young age by my grandmother. I learned to play a few instruments and always enjoyed the way music made me feel. As I got older, I wanted to dive into telling my stories through melodies or the beat of a drum. From pain, joy, happiness, to funk or jazz, the music I produce represents the voice I did not have when I was child.
Upscale: USA Today did a piece on your fight to change the perception of autism. You were also recognized by Forbes magazine. What was that like?
Boyd: To be the first African-American individual living with autism to be featured in Forbes, was more than an honor, but a reminder to the autism community that we matter.
Upscale: Are there any words of inspiration you have for others living with autism?
Boyd: Regardless of where you place on the spectrum of autism, remember that God has a gift that is making its way to you. We all have talent. We all have a gift. Do not build a house on negativity and misunderstanding. Build your house on greatness and what you can achieve. Try different things. Tap into different activities. You may fall sometimes, but so does anyone else. Just don’t give up–get back up.