Taylor Broad cannot sit still. He taps the heel of his aged sneakers against the tile floor of Lutgert Hall and glances at his computer then outside while he thinks. He’s trying to come up with a good answer for the question he’s been asked but he pushes his glasses up on his nose, picks at a thread in his faded jeans, crosses and uncrosses his legs, and ruffles his strawberry blonde hair before grinning and admitting he’s stumped. He laughs loudly, scaring two girls as they walk by, before apologizing and repeating the process in an attempt to come up with any advice for students suffering from mental disabilities.
Looking at Broad, one might wonder what’s wrong with him.
Taylor is living with Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder which affects social and verbal communication making it difficult to interact with others, and one that the CDC reports that one in 68 people are living with.
“I never spoke a word for three years of my life. I was completely silent. I only made sounds,” Broad says about his disorder. “(My) social development did not kick off at all.”
Children with Asperger’s are often seen as outcasts – people whose minds don’t process information the way ‘normal’ people do and who are therefore shunned because of it.
“I don’t ever know how to act around them,” Andrea Torres, a student at FGCU remarks. “I’ve heard bad things like they throw tantrums and they’re just weird.”
“Before I find out that they’re autistic, I always think what’s wrong with them too,” Mahalath Pongo, another student says. “But I’ve worked with kids like that before and they’re really sweet.”
When asked about their experiences with Asperger’s, students often empathize with Torres or Pongo but kids like Broad have more depth to them than what people see.
“I’m probably one of the most interesting guys” he says.
Broad is the Founder of the Pokémon Club at FLorida Gulf Coast University, he is part of the ESPN3 crew, he has a piloting license, his own small video making business, and he’s currently working on relaunching EAGLETV on campus, all despite his mental disability.
He also holds a stable job at Dick’s Sporting Goods, dabbles in software engineering, Youtube, and composes music that he describes as “his own thing.”
For a student living with a disability, Broad is doing really well and doesn’t consider his disability to be a negative factor of who he is, but rather an attribute to his success in school.
“Asperger’s has one hundred percent, helped with my success,” Broad says. “Autism is a step in evolution however it’s, for some reason, it’s a weird de-evolution at the same time. It’s completely tuning our minds to something completely different – taking in different types of sensory information.”
“It’s really the reason I’ve been able to come up with several different solutions, different possibilities, and different stuff. I consider myself an actual leader,” Broad says.
Though people may find kids with autism annoying, or pity them, Broad makes it clear that he’s not to be pitied but celebrated.
His autism is what makes him the smart and insightful student that he is and he believes it will continue to help him with his future projects.
“I want to revolutionize virtual reality and I’m literally a stone’s throw away from actually doing it. I thought of it 10 years ago. And I thought that in a couple years, it will be more possible based on our technology. I want to pioneer virtual reality like no one has pioneered it before.”