April 20, 2023

Interviewing Zach, development and marketing intern and supported employment client

Zach Guth is a client in Summit’s supported employment program and an intern in the development and marketing department. He shared his thoughts on what it means to have autism spectrum disorder.

At what age were you diagnosed with autism?

My mom suspected I had autism when I was about 9 months old but [I was diagnosed at the age of 9]. I personally became aware of my disorder sometime in 8th grade.

Is there a stereotype you’ve heard about autism and thought “that doesn’t sound anything like me”?

This one is something I always see on the internet. People always assume that people with autism are stupid, to the point calling someone “autistic” is an insult. I don’t agree with that assumption as I happen to be very intelligent, especially in history. Autism is a spectrum disorder and thus there may be those who aren’t that intelligent, but others who could be geniuses.

What are some of your hobbies and interests?

My three hobbies in order of when I first started them are watching lacrosse, playing video games, and watching NASCAR. [My family has season tickets] to the Buffalo Bandits. We always go to their home games. My dad, who still plays lacrosse in his late 50s with two shot knees, has been a Bandits fan since its inception in 1991. As of 2022, I’ve found even more interest with the game keeping statistics. My only hope for Box Lacrosse is to expand further to many cities. When I look at YouTube, many people are indeed interested in watching but either don’t have a team or don’t know where to watch.

As for video games, while I’ve been playing them since 2006, I became a full gamer in 2012 with my introduction to Minecraft. Since then, I have played over 150 games over seven generations of consoles spanning from as early as 1985 to modern releases. For me, gaming is an outlet for my imagination, a challenge for my intelligence, and a distraction from my anxieties about the world today. My top games are Minecraft, Fallout 4, New Vegas & 76, Team Fortress 2, Kerbal Space Program (with enough mods to test the limits of my powerful modern computer), and even games like Cube Escape/Rusty Lake and Gas Station Simulator.

My final main hobby goes back to my childhood as my grandfather used to watch NASCAR. My family likes to joke about it but became interested after watching videos on YouTube like “8 things you (probably) didn’t know about NASCAR” by S1apSh0es and “there will Never Ever be another driver like Dale Earnhardt” by EmpLemon. What really got me into the motorsport was the Nu-Way 150 here in Buffalo on July 31, 2021 at what is now called Lancaster Motorplex. (NASCAR will return to the track on August 5 and I plan on being there.) Since then, [I’ve listened to] a playlist of music as I watch the races, especially the Daytona 500. While I’m not as into it as I was, I like to keep an eye on it from time to time.

What is something most people seem to enjoy but is your worst nightmare?

There are three things that really affect me: loud sharp noises, my tastes, and my anxiety. These often lead [me to avoid some activities] that others enjoy. My mother has been trying to get me to go to a rock concert for a while. The problem is that loud noises can really mess with me. Now I do have a few exceptions. Being outdoors dulls the noise, and I use earplugs and headphones. Another activity that people love that I don’t like is trying new stuff. My anxiety and tastes often lead me away from trying new [foods]. It doesn’t help that my brother loves flavorful and spicy foods while I find Doritos spicy.

The one nightmare I wish not just Buffalo, but the whole United States would realize that fewer people are willing to do, especially my generation, is drive. Everything about driving fills me with anxiety. If I’m driving, I have my racing playlist playing and my GPS always on, despite my good sense of direction. I prefer public transportation. When going to Bandits games, I take the Metro Rail, a 15-minute drive down Main Street from my house. It has the plus side of costing $4 compared to $15-$20 to park downtown. As a train fanatic, it interests me as well.

When you tell someone you have autism, how do you want them to react?

When it comes to people with autism, I always have a saying, “It’s both a blessing and a curse.” That’s how it’s always felt for my life. So, when people see or hear about others with autism, I want them to see the positives, especially when it comes to creativity and imagination. Imagine having the imagination and creativity of childhood, but that never disappears. Even with an understanding of the world, they use that understanding to refine their creativity into something people can use. I personally think that’s why many companies are [hiring] people with autism. Creativity is something most people don’t have anymore. But there’s always a catch to anything that sounds too good. While wanting to have a normal life, there are things that can hinder or trigger sensitivities. For some, it’s sounds. For others, it may be light. [And some can’t] identify their triggers, even if you told them.

I want to conclude with one thing. Last I heard, 1:36 people have autism, and that number is likely to get bigger as time goes on. I want you to remember if you only see 100 people in a day, just know that on average at least two of them will have autism, knowingly or not. Autism is a spectrum disorder. For some like me, it could be just a small annoyance in our lives but an amazing gift. For others it can be a struggle to live a happy life. And for others, they may not even show any signs of being autistic. So please, be kind. Be that good neighbor you always hear about in Buffalo, “the City of Good Neighbors.” Help others live the lives they want to.