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Mukilteo locals aim to increase autism awareness


Last updated 4/18/2018 at Noon

April is National Autism Awareness Month throughout the United States.

According to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children in the United States was found to be having autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As far as by gender, one in 42 boys has ASD and one in 189 girls has ASD.

Toward the end of March, Jason Lundgren, a 2001 Kamiak graduate, called the Beacon and asked if there was going to be a story on Autism Awareness in April.

Lundgren is on the autism spectrum, and felt it was important that people in the Mukilteo community were made aware that April is Autism Awareness month, and that autistic people often struggle emotionally because of how others treat them, but also that they can contribute to society despite their disability.

Lundgren and his friend Derrick Meury, a 2004 Kamiak grad, shared their struggles of dealing with autism, but also some of their talents, and things they wish people would understand about autistic people.

“People with autism can contribute to the community such as going to work, going to the library, anything social,” Lundgren said.

Lundgren has worked at the Safeway in Lynnwood for 17 years, spending the last two in the store’s bakery, which he said he really enjoys.

Meury, who also has depression, ADD, ADHD and is higher on the autism spectrum than Lundgren, doesn’t have a job, and relies on Social Security for money.

“It’s not for lack of trying,” Meury said.

Meury uses public transportation to get around, and found that some potential employers who would hire someone like him would require him to take multiple buses just to get to work.

Lundgren also uses the bus to get around, and says he’s tried driving but finds it’s scary because of his disability.

“I get sensory overload, and it’s really overwhelming,” Lundgren said.

Lundgren and Meury both say they were bullied growing up because of their disabilities.

Lundgren said it got better as he progressed through school.

“Elementary school was the worst,” Lundgren said. “I remember that time between kindergarten and third grade, that was hell. It got better, progressively … at Kamiak I feel like I was respected at worst, and at best, well-liked. Or that they’d just back away, like they’re not even comfortable with me being near them.”

Meury, however, said high school was tough for him. He noted that one bully in particular made going to school very difficult by locking him out of class so Meury would be late, getting other kids to hide Meury’s belongings, or making class harder than it needed to be.

“He would pass out papers in class and purposefully forget me or just drop the paper, and wherever it landed, it landed,” Meury said. “We also had a shared set of textbooks … if we got there at the same time, he would act as if he wanted to hit me with the book.”

Both Lundgren and Meury say they’re not bullied as much as they were in school, but it still occurs.

“I get picked on every now and then and called a few names negatively,” Lundgren said.

Meury said it’s still hard to interact with people, whether it’s on social media or in person.

“Online, I’ve been bullied left and right, and it’s something that happens all the time,” Meury said. “And I’ve voiced my feelings on it on Facebook, and a lot of people don’t like that I do that, but where else am I to put myself out there without being put aside or put down?

“Even in real life it’s hard for me to make friends … a lot of times, people look at me like, ‘Who the hell are you? What do you want? Get the hell away from me.’ Or they stand there ignoring me like I’m not even talking to them.”

Meury wanted people to be aware of organizations doing great things to help people like him and Lundgren.

“There’s a charity, Autism Speaks, I’ve seen that a guy on a show called ‘Chasing Classic Cars’ whose daughter is actually autistic, and he donated a car and auctioned it off to put forth money towards the charity,” Meury said.

“That is a very good charity to work with because they’re working to find cures for autism. Who knows if they will find a cure, but there should be at some point.”

Lundgren agreed that he would like to see advances in the medical field to help people deal with autism.

“It’s not so much that I want a cure to cure off autism as much as a way to curtail it,” Lundgren said. “There’s great things about autism, there’s bad things about autism. The bad thing I want to get rid of is the social awkwardness.”

One area where Lundgren excels, for instance, is video games.

Lundgren holds seven world records for high scores in arcade games such as Final Fight.

He started his world record journey in September of 2015 at the Replay Café, a now-closed arcade bar next to Lundgren’s work.

“I was on a break from work, and the next thing I knew, they had this video game called ‘Final Fight,’” Lundgren said. “I played the arcade version, and I got really, really good because they had free play … so I kept playing, and once I went for the world record in 2016 I just knew what I was doing.”

Keeping with his love of video games, Lundgren worked as a “minion” at Emerald City Comic Con the last two years, helping support the event’s staff members, exhibitors, and guests.

“It was actually my first paid gig of any sort since Safeway,” Lundgren said.

Another area where Meury and Lundgren both excel is with their long-term memories.

Lundgren said this is especially helpful in remembering facts about movies and sports, and Meury is very passionate about the history of music.

Meury is also very tech-savvy, and has built PCs and watches videos about computers in his free time. Meury recalled the first time he rebuilt a computer.

“I’ve actually been able to have a computer built within a good amount of time,” Meury said. “Some people lay out the parts to build it, and they’re all confused … I took this computer that I had, and I had taken the board out of it, and I said, ‘Let’s see if this thing fits here.’ And it did. Boy did it fit, and it worked!”

Lundgren said he wanted people to know that he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him for his disability and challenges that come with it.

“Everybody’s got their own set of problems. It’s how you deal with them in the long run,” Lundgren said. “Even though I have a lot of problems … I had a lot of things going against me, but I never give up on my dreams even if people tell me, ‘Jason, you can’t do this. You need to think realistically.’ Once I realize my talents, I work hard at them and I take my friends and my family with me on my journey.”

Meury said he wants people in general to be more accepting and understanding.

“It’s better to accept people as they are and get to know them and accept them as they are on the inside, as well as the outside,” Meury said.

Author Bio

Brandon Gustafson, Editor, Mukilteo Beacon

Brandon Gustafson was named editor of the Mukilteo Beacon in October, 2017. Born and raised in Mukilteo, Brandon attended Mukilteo Elementary, Olympic View Middle School, and Kamiak High School, graduating in 2013. After high school, Brandon attended Shoreline Community College, earning his associate's degree while playing for the school's baseball team. He then transferred to the University of Washington, where he graduated in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in communications-journalism.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 425-347-5634
Twitter: @MukBeaconBPG


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