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Chances are pretty good that you either know someone with an autism spectrum disorder or someone who is caring for an autistic family member.
Federal statistics show that about 1% of the world’s population, or 75 million people, has ASD, a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Sawnee Electric Membership Corp.’s Mike Goodroe and his wife, Joane, have a personal connection to ASD. In the early 1990s, their son, Michael, now 33, was diagnosed with the disorder, as well as a low IQ. Experts said an independent life wasn’t possible, and school was out of the question.
“Shock, denial and ‘what did we do to cause this,’” was the immediate reaction, recalled Mike Goodroe, who’s led Sawnee EMC, based in Cummings, Georgia, since 1990. “The internet was not readily available back then, so my wife had to do the research from periodical and other medical sources.”
The younger Goodroe describes how his parents’ steadfast belief in his potential led to a fulfilling life in his memoir, “What Autism Gave Me: A Devastating Diagnosis to a Triumphant Life.” The book aims to get people to look beyond the negative stereotypes of autism and other disabilities.
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“The tone of the book is of hope, success, achievement and perseverance in the face of what might seem like monumental odds,” said Mike Goodroe. “To just persevere, because in the end the goal outweighs the means that you're investing.”
With the support of parents, extended family and others, Michael went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in history, a Master of Business Administration, and a third-degree black belt in Taido, a Japanese martial art. He works full-time as an administrative assistant at a health care company. He’s also a motivational speaker at co-ops and corporate events and an accomplished singer. He spoke at an Alabama Electric Cooperative Statewide Association conference in Point Clear on Aug. 25.
Michael overcame huge hurdles. Abysmal scores on dozens of educational assessments prevented him from attending traditional K-12 schools. Amid demanding careers—before she retired, Joane was a health care administrator—his parents found ways for their son to succeed: finding alternative schools and other allies, among them a flexible vocal instructor and sensei, or martial arts instructor.
“Over and over again, my challenges and my testing results have created barriers,” writes the younger Goodroe. “My parents could have simply accepted that I had limited potential and not pushed forward. It’s important for others to look at the objective testing results and to then see what I have managed to accomplish. Only then can they understand that such results do not make up the complete picture of potential.”
Goodroe’s book is about both his journey toward a fulfilling life and his parents’ exhaustive efforts to get him there.
As a college student, “by the time I arrived home each weekend, my mom and dad made study guides and had filled in any holes in my notes from class. My dad would read each page of every assignment with me. He would read a page out loud and then I would read the next page. This allowed me to absorb the information.”
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As co-ops and other businesses look to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion to improve their organizations, they might do well to look to Michael Goodroe’s story.
“It’s an opportunity and a challenge for us to find individuals who will be motivated, conscientious and who can deliver on the values we see as essential, which is supporting our members,” the elder Goodroe said. “If we are about people, we should look at all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, age or gender. And that translates into how we look at people with learning disabilities.”