Having family members and friends with autism, Tre Perry has seen how the disorder affects them and the people around them.
Some suffer from anxiety being around a lot of people. Some have difficulties in motor coordination and attention. Some can’t communicate.
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At this year’s Jackson County 4-H Fair, the Seymour teen decided to combine bringing awareness of autism with his family’s love of demolition derbies.
The 17-year-old found an old Chevrolet Celebrity, stripped it out and made it demolition derby-ready. He then gathered several family members and the man who was going to drive the car, Tony Dover, to help paint the outside of the car with red, yellow and blue puzzle pieces, which make up the logo of autism awareness.
They also wrote phrases like “We are all different and that’s beautiful” and “The world needs all kinds of minds” and names of family members and friends with autism on the car, including Katilyn Geabes, Danny Stout, Trenton Walden, Landon Hensley, Matt Lafferty, C.J. Valentine and Anthony Jackson.
“I’ve seen them struggle with stuff,” Perry said. “Their lives matter, too.”
Perry bought the car about a week before the demolition derby.
Painting it was a daylong family project. On the back door of each side of the car, they paid tribute to family members and friends who have died.
“I think it’s nice because we all did it by hand, and we all had teamwork in it,” Perry said. “It’s not like stickers or anything. It’s our own thing that we did to it.”
Perry’s father, Larry, has been participating in demolition derbies for more than 15 years. He no longer drives the vehicles, instead building them for others to drive and inspecting them before the events.
He was proud to combine that passion with his family’s support of autism.
“I was all for it,” he said. “I thought it was a good idea to sponsor something like that.”
During the mini-car division of the demolition derby, an autism awareness banner painted by Kaitlyn Carr was unfurled behind the track. She’s the fiancée of Larry Perry’s oldest son, Larry Perry Jr.
“It’s just good for everybody to know about autism and what it does to people and how they act and everything,” Larry Perry said. “You’ve got people making fun of people like that, and there’s no sense in making fun of people like that. You can’t make fun of something you don’t understand. God made us all different, so that’s the way it is. It’s important for people to know how to treat somebody that’s got that.”
Autism is a mental condition characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. The disorder is characterized in varying degrees by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
For example, Geabes has a lot of trouble being around a large crowd of people, while Stout can handle that and is real personable but has to have everything in order all of the time, said Larry Perry’s wife, Michelle.
“When you’re out in public and when one of our family members has autism, if they are acting up and having an issue, some people, they don’t understand it,” Michelle said. “They don’t know where they are coming from, and they get aggravated. A lot of people don’t know the illness.”
Some kids with autism, including Hensley and Valentine, either don’t speak well or don’t speak at all.
“It’s tough,” said Hensley’s grandfather, Donald Smith of Jonesville, who works with Larry Perry and Dover at George’s of Seymour.
Smith said it was pretty special when Perry asked him to paint his grandson’s name on the hood of the car.
Geabes and Stout were excited about seeing their names on the car, too.
“After we got this car done, Danny and Katilyn (Geabes) came to the house and wanted their pictures taken with it, and they had a field day with it,” Michelle Perry said. “Katilyn, she loved it when it was revved up, the engine. She just loved that.”
Geabes couldn’t attend the demolition derby because of the large crowd that gathers at the grandstand, but Stout was excited about going to Tuesday’s show.
“Danny was like, ‘That’s my car. I’ll be there Tuesday to watch my car,’” Michelle said.
The car was among 22 entered in the mini-car division, and Dover finished in the top 10.
“It means a lot,” Dover said. “It’s an honor to drive this.”
For information about autism, visit autismspeaks.org.