The following interview is set at Tyler’s annual Oscars party. Upon entering, there are several tri-fold displays of the nominated films. On the table, there are ballots for an Oscar-winner guessing game, along with a binder containing lists of other recent award show winners. Atop the mantle, there is a collection of trophies, which, along with physical size, represent various stages of life. The smallest trophy is a baby boy, while the largest is a full-sized man. Who at the gathering will win?
Tyler: I was diagnosed at the age of 3. I am the youngest of 2 children, and pretty much everyone in my family has some sort of mental disorder. Both my dad and I have Asperger’s Syndrome, my mom and my sister, Spencer, have dyslexia, and my oldest sister, Jessica, has ADHD, which I understand you also have.
Tyler: We’re all really understanding of each other. I feel like autism in the 90s… no one really knew about it, and no one knew how to handle a kid on the spectrum. It was really hard. Growing up, I feel like I was that “autistic kid,” who never really talked with anyone, never communicated with anyone or had a facial change. I was always very stoic, and very flat. I would communicate with my sister in our own made-up language if I wanted something, and she was the only one who could understand me. Spencer and I are extremely close. She is my rock, she is my best friend, and she is my gay sister. Holla!
On August 1, 2000, everything came to a screeching halt for me. We had decided to take our first family vacation out of the country, in a motorhome. It was a magical experience. You’re on the road, you’re sleeping in a bed while it’s moving… We were in Alberta at a campground, and there was a giant U-shaped hill. On one side of the mountain, there were trees that looked like they touched the sky. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. It was my dad’s birthday. Spencer and I decided to go for a bike ride down the hill while my dad went to sulk in his bedroom because he was like, “Oh my god, I’m a year older.” My mom and Jessica decided to go horseback riding.
Spencer goes first, and she gets down the hill. Then it’s my turn. I started heading down, and about halfway down the hill, Spencer recalls seeing a car coming at a fast, uneasy tempo. It turns out the driver had gone to a party and left his ID, and he tried to race back to the motorhome and get it. I did not know what to do. I let go of the bike, put my hands on my eyes, and let nature take its course. The bike basically did a giant jolt. I flew off the bike and landed on concrete in the middle of the road. The driver then drove right over me and dragged me for about 10 to 15 feet before he realized something was going on. It was one of the darkest moments of my life. I still have a scar, and I still have the helmet. And I’ve gotta say – thank fucking God for Tony Hawk! Spencer loved the Tony Hawk skateboard stuff, and she saw the helmet on TV, and my parents were like, “Yeah, these look pretty durable.” I’ve gotta thank Tony Hawk for saving my life.
Josh: I THINK “THANK FUCKING GOD FOR TONY HAWK” IS THE LINE OF THE INTERVIEW. WE CAN STOP HERE. WHAT WAS THE RECOVERY LIKE?
Tyler: Recovery was a process. I had to learn to walk, talk, and eat again. I was told I was never going to walk again.
Josh: WELL NOW YOU DANCE!
Tyler: I just danced my way out of the hospital! I don’t know how it happened, but through that accident, the cogs of my brain began to slowly turn and turn. I don’t know what happened, but you look at someone and say “I’m on the autism spectrum, I have depression, I have anxiety,” and someone’s like “You do not look like the person who has that at all.” Even talking with me, people are shocked.
Josh: WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY THINK AN AUTISTIC PERSON LOOKS LIKE?
Tyler: I think eye contact is something that’s really big, or they look away a lot, or they aren’t really good with social skills or facial cues or how to feel emotions. It’s something I deal with at work as well.
Josh: WHAT DO YOU DO?
Tyler: I am a special ed assistant at Edison High School. I work with kids who have developmental cognitive disorders. The kids are amazing, and I cherish every single one of them. There are days when they definitely get to me, and days where I want to hold them and not let them go. You read their IEP’s [Individualized Education Program] and you get so emotional because a lot of these kids go through something you never want to go through.
I went to Hamline. I specifically sought out a school in Minneapolis where I wanted to do special ed work, because it would give me experience I would need anywhere, honestly. Basically my job is to assist students with daily needs. A lot of students can’t use the bathroom on their own. Eating as well, is something that comes at great difficulty. We mostly have the kids there for life skills, and how they’re able to have a job when they feel they can’t do anything, or their parents tell them they’re not worth anything. That just kills me, because the parents should be the number 1 supporters, and some aren’t like that at all.
It just makes me think of growing up on the autism spectrum. People told me that I didn’t need to be in special ed, that I was using it as a crutch, and as an excuse because I didn’t want to do the work. It’s like, do you realize the hard shit I’ve had to go through? I’ve had speech therapy, I’ve had to learn how to walk.
Josh: WELL, TWICE, TECHNICALLY…
Tyler: Yes, technically. In middle school I was diagnosed with moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety, and if there was something I couldn’t handle, I would just have a meltdown, and people would say “Here we go again.” I had so much to prove.
And then I found swimming. Swimming changed my life. I then went from “What is he going to do in life” to “There goes Tyler, that star swimmer.” It was the one thing I knew I was really good at, and just kept proving time and time again. I was a varsity swimmer for 6 years, and I only kept getting stronger and stronger.
But social settings have been a barrier to me growing up. Even to this day at chorus, when I’m around people like you, or my friends, I’m a social butterfly, but if I’m around people I’m not very close with, I get into a shutdown mode. And some people out there still don’t like this.
Josh: WELL I LIKE THIS.
Tyler: And I like this! I’ve also used a lot of things to find social meaning, or to talk to people about my passions. Film, for instance, is something that’s so big to me, and I will talk about it nonstop. But I always find it difficult to talk to someone who doesn’t share the same passions, and I just keep rambling on and on and I don’t want to bore them.
Josh: WELL IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE YOU HAVE ONE HELL OF A LIFE.
Tyler: I would say so. I’m just so grateful to have a family that’s extremely open and supportive. I grew up with a society where people were homophobic, racist, and never saw people for who they were. My parents always taught me no matter who the person is, what their skin color is, what their gender or religion is, you need to accept them with open arms and support them. Even if it means taking a big risk in something that doesn’t feel comfortable for you. I’ve always kept that mentality, because I’d like to think I’m a pretty open individual, and I have my parents to thank for that.
Josh: YOU KNOW, WHEN I INTERVIEWED [CHORUS MEMBER] PETER HAGEN ON HIS EXPERIENCE WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER, ONE THING I ENJOYED GETTING TO DO WITH HIM IS TO REPRESENT HIS DIAGNOSIS AS NOT THE FIRST THING WE SEE. HE, LIKE YOU, IS AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSON WHO JUST HAPPENS TO HAVE AUTISM. PLEASE, FILL IN THE BLANK FOR ME: “I AM _____.”
Tyler: I am someone who may have a cold exterior at times, but I’d like to think that I am a bubbly, vivacious individual who tries to have a positive outlook on life. There are definitely days when it’s a struggle, but I love others, I love myself. I’ve gone through so much self-growth, and I’m in a place where I love and accept me for who I am. I’m fun, I’m charismatic, and I talk way too much about movies and Spongebob.
At this point, Josh does an impression of Patrick Star from Spongebob. Tyler then returns with [in Josh’s opinion] the best impression of Plankton he’s ever heard. They then discuss potential Oscar winners, and the guessing competition.
Tyler: You can win this, I know you can!
Josh would like to brag that he did, in fact, win 3rd place later that night.