I will never forget the very first time I spoke on the phone with Dan Olmsted. It was spring of 2013, and I was 19 years old. I was already writing for Age of Autism as their youngest contributor, and sibling advocate. Dan wanted me to assist him in creating a video on research that he, Teresa Conrick, and Mark Blaxill had collected for a presentation.
I was honored and excited to contribute to this. I was just beginning my journey into the world of animation and film, and it was before receiving formal instruction from the Motion Design department at Ringling College. The fact that this presentation was going to be shown at AutismOne absolutely thrilled me as a young advocate still finishing my senior year of high school.
Dan sent me newspaper clippings. Articles. Photographs. Everything that supported his research. It was both fascinating and eerie because one of the first children to be diagnosed with autism was born in Baltimore, Maryland just outside of my hometown. I remember distinctly having to re-record Dan saying the word “two” with three different inflections in order to properly time the visuals to the audio. Dan was so nice about it, and we both couldn't help but laugh. I will miss Dan's gentle voice. It had a nurturing quality, much like a parent reading a storybook to a child. I couldn’t help but smile whenever I heard him speak.
This film would become, “How Mercury Triggered The Age Of Autism.” It was shown at the AutismOne 2013 Conference, and I was told it was received positively. They were sure to tell me that everyone gasped when my animated needle pierced the United States map turning it blood red. It made me feel good as a budding animator that my simple imagery made an emotional impact.
It was Monday, January 23, 2017 at approximately 6:00p.m., and I was in my Immersive Media Studio Class developing an animation for the planetarium in Bradenton, Florida. Just moments after I presented my initial concept, I received a message from my mother with a link from Age of Autism. All she said was, “I’m so sorry…”
All I could muster was the word, “No.” I was in disbelief. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I was stuck fighting the impulse to cry while still in class. I've had many trying moments recently I've had to power through. This moment completely broke my concentration.
I do not give in to tears easily. I have to stay strong for myself, my brother and my family. I see no use in crying if all it will do is make me feel defeated. However, in this moment, we lost Dan, and I couldn’t take it. As soon as I left the classroom, I burst into tears and called home. My mom asked me, “Are you okay?”
I replied, “No. This is not okay. I am NOT okay.”
Today, I’m still not really okay. This is too surreal to me.
Dan had only one wish for everyone at Age of Autism: To continue forward with advocating and protecting our loved ones. He referred to us as the rebel alliance, and that we fought for good. I appreciate this analogy, especially since my brother Anthony is so enthusiastic about Star Wars. I have decided to dedicate my spring thesis in Dan’s memory out of respect for how supportive and kind he was to me.
Dan, where ever you are...
I promise to never stop fighting. I promise to never stop advocating. You were one of the most intuitive and kind souls I’ve ever had the good grace to meet. You gave me the strength to critically assess the end goal, to dig deep into issues, and to avoid trouble. You handled everything with such diplomacy, and you guided others in a concerned and gentle manner. I will never forget your encouragement, and will always try to emulate your intellect and kindness for as long as I’m alive.
I will miss you.