Sam Mitchell is a high-functioning human being on the autism spectrum, but he has a mission: to show people that he is not broken and does not need to be fixed. Sam is an international motivational speaker, podcast host, entrepreneur, podcast coach, educational writer, blogger, educator and trainer for businesses on employment and autism.

Alison: Hello, Jean.

Jean: Hi. Good afternoon.

Alison: You sounded like…  good afternoon, how may I help you on insidewink… Who can I connect you to? hahaha   —Okay, so today….

Jean: We are connecting you to Sam..

Alison: Mitchell.

Jean: Right? Who is on the autism spectrum?

Alison: Correct.

Alison: And he he contacted us because a while back we did, um, Emily Grodin, we interviewed Emily Grodin, and he loves Emily, and said, I want to do that too. So he contacted us and Sam started a podcast, and an organization called Autism Rocks and Rolls.

Jean: That’s a great title.

Alison: Yeah, yeah. And he was. I really enjoyed him. And we also spoke to his mom.

Jean: Yeah. And you can see that  these children that are on the autism spectrum, how vitally important their parents are.

Alison: Yeah, they really are so close and they really are the advocates, you know. And so, um, Sam, though we want to mention, we interviewed him while he was in the car… And so the sounds a little weird.

Jean: Yes. And then we lose connection with him..

Alison: No, but, i think we took that out.

Jean: Okay, great.

Alison: But if not, you’ll understand.

Jean: But the sound isn’t as great as we would like it, so we apologize in advance for that. But the, um, the meat and the message of the interview is really wonderful.

Alison: Yeah, he’s a great guy. He just is, uh, so proactive. So here, listen first and then we’ll come back.

Sam: Yodelayheehoo.

Alison: What a way to start with a nice yodel.

Jean: Thank you.

Sam: Thank you for your attention. Not a problem.

Alison: That’s great. How are you doing?

Sam: Good. Not too bad. You?

Alison: Very, very well. We’re so proud that you contacted us to talk about, “Autisim rocks and rolls”.

Sam: Well. Thank you. I saw, I was just doing some digging on Emily, and I’m just trying to follow her, follow her steps, I guess.

Alison: Yeah. Emily, we love Emily. Yeah.

Jean: And her mom is amazing. So, Sam, I’m Jean.

Alison: And I’m Alison.

Sam: Nice to meet you both.

Alison: So how how is it going for you with with your podcast and with your website and your nonprofit?

Sam: Um, well, it’s going decent. We, um, I run the podcast. I have sponsors for it. I have a board for the nonprofit, and then I do speaking engagements. I’ve spoken in Oklahoma, Orlando, Canada, DC, and then let’s see what else in Stuart, Florida as well and some events in Indiana, which is where I’m from.

Alison: Oh that’s excellent. You live in a small town in Indiana, right?

Sam: Yeah, very small rural country.

Jean: So Sam, let’s start off with, um, autism, the meaning of autism and and what it means to be on the spectrum.

Sam: I didn’t realize that was a question. So, um, for me, it means that there’s a different way of thinking. Um, but I know society thinks that’s a neurological term condition, like it’s just a basic disorder. And I don’t see that. I just see it as a different perspective of life.

Alison: Is that your mom?

Sam: Yes.

Alison: Hi, mom…Okay. Hi, mom. We love you, mom.

Sam’s mother – GINA : Thank you. I love you guys, too. I love everybody.

Alison: That’s good.

Jean: That’s a great motto.

Jean: And so, Sam, what is something that you would like people to know about autism? That someone that doesn’t have autism. What would you like people to know?

Sam: That their perception is all not correct. One of the guests that I had on we literally had the interview, stopped me in the middle of it for five minutes. And his he said, and I quote, wait a minute, you’re autistic. There’s a point to this story, I promise. And his reign, when he was in his interview, he was expecting me to be wheelchair bound and not able to talk. Like, basically I had the mind of a two year old. Which I won’t lie, there’s some that have that population and there’s some like that, but then there’s this whole other population that is not that person at all. They’re high functioning or I hate that, really, but they just have they don’t need much support as the other person does. But they are successful. They’re going to college. They got a job as a doctor. They’re a chef. I mean, they’re doing something.

Alison: Which is so right, you know. Um, I think you at one point, your quote is there’s no normal in the world. Which I really love. What does that mean to you?

Sam: Well, to me that means no one is really the same. To me, every person is a different human being. Maybe you’re good at math. I’m not saying you are. I don’t, no idea. But i’m not a math person. You could be. I’m an English person. You cannot be. I’m a person who enjoys the sun, hot weather.. The other person likes cold weather. And that’s my friend, which I think is crazy for, but it’s just opposite personalities. And really, who cares? He can like the cold weather. Go have fun. Go have fun in an igloo, I don’t care.

Alison: Yeah that’s right, I totally, I totally agree with you, Sam.

Jean: 100% and, i love that your perception is so non-judgmental. You are choosing to see people for what’s withinside of them and how what they’re doing in the world and how they’re being in the world. Not not as going through life with a label or in a box. And I, I think your podcast and what you’re doing….

Sam: Well, I just believe that, I’m just saying that, with friends in particular too, i was just trying to tell them that, if you’re nice to me, we’re good to go. Like, I don’t care what we do. I’m the type of person that will go with whatever. Like, this is what I did this week.. with literally with a friend who’s also on the spectrum, we train watched, literally waited 15 minutes for a train.  And I’m not a person who’s a train guy. I never have been, I don’t care, I’ll do whatever. But we waited there for a train. The train didn’t come sadly, but I still deal with them just because I wanted to be around them.

Jean: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: Even though I’m not a train boy.

Alison: I love that. I love that you that you spent you just like spending time with him.

Sam: Yeah, that’s all I care about. They’re nice people. Why wouldn’t I? That’s all I care about. If you’re nice to me, we’re good to go.

Alison:  I love that. That’s going to be my new motto. Yeah. Can you tell me what brings you the most joy, do you think? What makes you the most happy?

Sam: I would say what makes me the most happy is just the times that I get with family and friends. I mean, I have a definitely a supportive family, even though that for the 15 years of my life, pretty much was socializing sucked. I had a supportive family and that’s what kept the ball going.

Jean: Yeah…That’s why it’s so important to have… really wonderful parents or a support team and friends.

Alison: Um, how did they support you? How did you feel their support?

Sam: They put this way. They weren’t strict, they had expectations, but they did their best to know what was like autism and what was not, because that can be very complicated. I mean, their child, who’s on the autism spectrum, is having a meltdown because of the buzzers, or is he throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get a teddy bear?

Alison: Oh…that’s so interesting. I never thought of it that way. And how did your parents and your family learn to differentiate between that?

Sam:  Why don’t we have one of the parents answer it. Yeah?

Alison: Gina, how did you learn to differentiate between, a tantrum or maybe the buzzer sound be, um, upsetting.

Sam: Hey, hold on, before you answer, I said buzzer sounds because I cannot ever go to a basketball game. Which is actually ironic, because now I have a job at my college where I’m now at the basketball game where I hear the buzzer is doing audio camera work. Go figure.

Sam’s mother – GINA : Um, yeah. So, I mean, when he was diagnosed, when he was four, I mean, we had a lot to learn. Um, I’m an educator, I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher for almost 20 years, and I had, uh, I mean, I did have kiddos that had autism in my classes, but I, you know, I knew very little when he was diagnosed, but, I mean, it was just kind of a trial and error and learning. Um, now, you know, I’m really good at detecting it just because we’ve had a lot of practice. Um, but people have to understand that a meltdown versus a temper tantrum are two totally different things. Um, a temper tantrum is usually pretty short lived, and it is, like Sam said, it’s triggered by something when a child, like, doesn’t get their way. And when children are learning how to, like, control their emotions. Um, a meltdown for somebody who’s on the spectrum, it isn’t a temper tantrum. If they could quit, they probably would. And they probably would like, want to because it isn’t enjoyable for them.

Sam’s mother – GINA : But in their brain, it’s just, you know, like if, for example, when Sam when he was when I was a teacher at the school he went to, I always wanted to take him to the ball games, and he just never knew when the buzzer was going to go off. And so, if you think about it, like if something startles us or somebody that doesn’t have autism, it’s just really annoying and you’re like, God, that really scared me. But for someone who’s on the spectrum, you take that times a thousand. That is literally what they hear because of the, um, the way that their brain is wired and that’s not controllable. So if it’s something they cannot work through, which because of the brain wiring, then it becomes much more than a tantrum and it could last for up to hours, until you as a parent figure out, you know, not to make them happy. You know, we never we never babysit them. And we never thought, well, you know, we’re going to give him what he wants.

Sam:  You held the fort down, but you weren’t, like…

Sam’s mother – GINA : Yeah, we weren’t strict, but we also had expectations. And I remember him saying, well, remember, mom, I can’t because I have autism. And I think he did that like twice in his life because I said, I said, well, I’m sorry, but you are. Yeah. Sorry. Like you’re gonna figure it out. We’re gonna figure it out because you don’t have an option.

Sam: I learned that the hard way.

Jean: You know, I found when I was hearing, uh, Sam’s Ted talk, I heard that it was very important for Sam to have structure in his life.

Sam’s mother – GINA : Yeah, that’s what I kind of viewed as, um, as far as that goes, that wasn’t really in my opinion, it really wasn’t an autistic thing. It was more of, this is something that my child needs. And I think as parents, I think we all do that. I think that we know, like, okay, even someone who’s not on the spectrum. So, okay, this child, if he or she doesn’t go to bed by like 9:30, then they’re a total bear the next day. That’s what they need. And so we work with them as far as doing that. But um, yeah, I just I knew I knew he needed to have structure and being an educator and then, you know, just paying attention and being an attentive parent, we figured out things, um, I just told the story the other day. When he was in preschool, he went to a special education preschool because I suspected that he had autism. And on the first day of preschool, it was great. He came home and he was like, I love it, mom. And I was so happy, but i think that day, for their specials, they had had like art class..and so he loved it when he went to school.  The next day they had music class and nobody told Sam that the routine was going to change. And he had like a huge meltdown. And so we put, um, things into place. We, you know, his teacher, uh, printed out these little pictures and he put Velcro in the back of them, and then he let Sam every day move the pictures so that, like, and told him… this is our schedule today. Totally solved the problem. And so as an educator and a mom, you know, or a dad who has a kid with autism, you  become really creative in what you do. But I think as a parent, I think we should all be doing that.

Alison: I agree.  That’s a great that’s a great solution. I listen to your Grandma Alice’s podcast with you. And I thought she was amazing. And what I got, um, what I took away was the idea of patience. How important patience is… Do you feel like you’re a patient person?

Sam: um, let’s just say it depends on what it is. Would you agree with me on that one? Because probably not the most at points, but it depends on what it is.

Jean: Okay, Sam, I just want to switch gears for a second here and ask you about your dating life. How is it to be in a relationship? Do you want to be? Is that something that’s…

Sam: Yeah. No. You’re right. I definitely want to be. But the hardest thing for someone on the spectrum, in my opinion, is socializing. One on one interviews is fine. But you put me in a big group, good luck with that. But what works for me is virtual. More than like doing in person. I know a lot of people have done in-person dating and virtual. I do virtual because what my thought process behind that is when I actually have time to think of the statement…. When we socialize right now, like you gave me these questions, I kind of got to be quick a little bit to a point to give an answer…But when I’m virtual, kind of like this as well, I have time to think versus if I need to talk to you right now in person, we do an in-person interview, i got to be quick because, like, you got lives and we can’t be here 50 minutes.

Alison: What would your advice be to someone that receives that they that their child has autism? What advice would you give them?

Sam: First of all, in my opinion, when you go online, be very careful. We’ve done the work online, we’ve done the research. It’s mostly negative. I’m not going to lie, it’s mostly negative. They say autism is a death sentence. When a parent goes read it, reads the information and they think their life is over. I don’t blame them. They’re kind of getting fed some wrong information now, should they know their child is going to have a meltdown? Yes, but here’s what you can do. We’re missing that part. Where’s the here’s what you can do for a meltdown. Not just autism people have a meltdowns. You’re really helping us. Yeah.

Jean: Sam, is there any organization? That has been very helpful to you and your family.

Sam: Yeah.  we can try that. That might be a question, but I would say that an organization that has been very helpful is really the help that I got from the family. I can’t really think of an organization off the top of my head. We’ve done a lot of things, but actually, scratch that, there is one thing that did help.. Taekwondo.

Sam: Uh, let’s give a shout out right now to Bloomington ATA Martial Arts Facility. They are a taekwondo facility, and I did some taekwondo there many moons ago, and I did actually for five years where I got my black belt. They helped me with self discipline, respect. And it wasn’t about, you know, punching the bag, kicking the bag. That was part of it. It was kind of fun to do. But it was more to that. The best part of martial arts is not the fighting, clearly, it’s about you growing as a human being, and if you’re not growing as a human being, you’re in martial arts for the wrong reasons.

Alison: Mhm. Mhm. That’s excellent. Wow. Yeah. You make me want to take martial arts. That’s excellent. Yeah, yeah. Uh who, who do you think some of your favorite guests have been on your podcast?

Sam: From a personal standpoint, there’s a lot of good people. Uh, Mick Foley probably is one of my favorites. Another guest I had, he’s a comedian from World’s Dumbest, Brad Loekle. He is an LGBTQ community comedian and he has a great sense of humor — he was a personal treat for me. I watched that guy when I was 15, and that was the point where my life stopped. And when I got to go home, I put on real dummies and saw him. He made my life a whole lot better, and I got to have the privilege of not only meeting the guy, but interviewing him.

Alison: That’s excellent. What are you studying in college?

Sam: Broadcasting.

Jean: Oh, that’s so perfect. That’s in alignment with what you’re already doing.

Sam: Yes, ma’am.

Alison: Thank you so much, Gina and Sam, we’ve loved talking to you. And we thank you.

Jean: Thank you for opening up our minds and our hearts to just seeing people

Alison: As they are

Jean: as they are.

Sam: That’s what we want to do at the end of the day.

Jean: That is true. Bye.

Alison: Have a great day. Bye.

Jean: Okay, well, that was great.

Alison: He was great. And I loved the fact that he reached out and contacted us. He he I love when people do that.

Jean: Yeah. And he has that personality kind of, uh, you know, just go for it.. And I love. Yeah. Very good.

Alison: And I so admire the fact that he started all of this. Right? Autism rocks and rolls. Um, when he was like 19 or 20, he’s doing a organization and this and he’s interviewing some incredible people.  I don’t know, I just, I, I really was taken with him.

Jean: Me too. And his mom, Gina was equally as wonderful.

Alison: What a treat that she chimed right in. Yeah.

Jean: And her being a teacher and you know her, I’m sure she must have really had to learn a lot to have a child on the spectrum. And and she’s wonderful.

Alison: She’s wonderful. I love, uh, it seems to be like a real theme to me in most of our interviews, people talk about how important relationships are and supportive relationships– here we’re seeing it in a mother/child, we’ve seen it in friends, we’ve seen it in partners.. And it’s just really hits it home on how important that is for our health.

Jean: Yeah, well, you are that for me.

Alison: Thank you.  You’re that for me too, my friend. So we hope you enjoyed this. And, Sam, thank you so much for reaching out to us.

Jean: Yes, Many blessings.

Alison: That’s right. Have a great day, everyone.

Jean: Bye bye.


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