July 14, 2011
My name is Leighton, but everyone calls me Lee. I was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and was diagnosed with autism at age 3 in 1988. I was quite difficult to deal with when I was 2 years old. I would scream out in public, so my parents stopped taking me places because of my behavior. When I was 8 years old, I had a bad reaction to a medication, which put me in the hospital. I stayed there for three weeks, and I absolutely hated it. After that, I was determined to accomplish something in my life that would make me feel proud and important. I had no desire anymore to be a misbehaving kid. However, that was easier said than done. I still needed a lot of behavior management to fit into the mainstream.
In the summer of 1996, my dad introduced me to the sport of radio control car racing. These cars are not sold at Radio Shack or Toys R Us. These cars have carbon fiber, aircraft aluminum and titanium parts, and coil-over-oil filled shocks. My dad is my mechanic and still works on my car to this day. I competed in my first club race in early August against neurotypical adults. I won the next two races and started to gain some self-confidence and began to feel part of something bigger than myself. I still acted out when my car didn’t work well, but I was just a kid.
That summer, I competed in my first big race, the Wisconsin Off-Road Challenge. I was in a class for beginners who were getting their feet wet in the sport. I won the race! I was ecstatic! For the first time in my life, I felt like I had accomplished something that I could be proud of, and I believed I had a future in radio control car racing.
Shortly after that race, the owner of the track (who is now a good friend of mine) won the Tamiya National Championship in Orange County, Calif. He also won a trip to Japan to compete in the Tamiya World Championship. After hearing about his achievement, I knew I wanted to accomplish this in my life too.
I gave up a lot of things - cartoons, trick-or-treating and video games - to pursue my dream. My family and I began to travel to races around the country, and I won many of them too.
We traveled to the Tamiya Nationals eight times from 1998 to 2007, but I still hadn’t won the championship. We spent the entire first year at the track, tweaking, adjusting and getting the car dialed in, and making friends with the local racers. On August 30, 2009, I won the Tamiya North American Finals after 13 years of trying! I went on to the Tamiya World Championship that fall. The trip to Japan was the most wonderful time of my life, so far.
Currently, I am going to a community college in Mission Viejo, Calif., studying Japanese and pursuing courses in gerontology. I race different cars today and have made many friends in the Los Angeles area with the help of my dad.
I like to give back and try to be an inspiration to all people with disabilities. I thank my parents for helping me throughout my life to achieve my goals and dreams. My advice to all people on the spectrum is to never give up and never stop believing in what you can accomplish.
April 10, 2013
The Autism Society, the nation’s largest and oldest grassroots autism organization, has chosen Pittsburgh as the host city of its 44th annual conference on autism spectrum disorders.
April 5, 2013
Individuals with autism can attend the Autism Society National Conference and Exposition (in Pittsburgh) for FREE this year! Learn more: www.autism-society.org/conference.
April 3, 2013
Monarch Teaching Technologies, the makers of VizZle®, web-based educational software for visual learners with autism, will give one-year of free VizZle to every new (or renewing) Champion Member during April.
April 2, 2013
Read the Autism Society’s digital magazine about autism spectrum disorders!
April 2, 2013
Today, throughout the world, individuals will come together highlighting the needs and dreams of people living with autism.