Louis Scarantino is a writer, motivational speaker, and public advocate. His motivational speeches fight the stigma associated with mental health around the world. He is a contributor for Autism Parenting Magazine and The Mighty. He also publishes blogs, videos, audio notes, and has also authored a book based on personal experience. This week he discussed his personal journey as an Autistic advocate. An excerpt from his book, Love is Too Hard: The Dating (Mis)Adventures of a Man with Autism is included below his interview, with his permission.
How did you become aware of your diagnosis? In what ways was autism portrayed positively or negatively?
I remember my mom telling me I have autism. I didn’t have a clue what autism is. However, it explained the bad temper I had and why I had to have a TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff) worker in elementary school. It did make me unique and smart in my own ways even if I didn’t realize it.
What do you wish your parents, teachers, or friends knew about autism when you were growing up?
If only they knew I was different. I wish they knew my autism caused my bad temper. I developed differently unlike other children. All people with autism do. I wish they knew that. I wish they knew my autism caused me to learn differently. They thought I wasn’t trying or didn’t care, but I did. I always wanted to fit in, I just couldn’t.
I had a lot of failed first dates and relationships in my life. To cope with it, I wrote the book. It’s aimed towards an audience of young men on the autism spectrum who are experiencing hardships in dating.
What made you interested in becoming an autism life coach? How do you find your clients?
A lot of parents and individuals with autism want my perspective and advice on autism. I became a life coach inspired by those people who depend on me.
The coaching section of your website says that it’s difficult “when the people who’re supposed to guide you and enable you to live with autism don’t give you the skills needed to cope with the requirements of daily life.” Can you explain how this has affected you personally, or someone you know of?
My family, friends, and teachers didn’t have all the answers. That caused me to have my ups and downs in daily life. And unfortunately I think we still don’t have all the answers but enough to coach each other on our autism journeys as individuals and advocates. I have friends on the spectrum from all over who have been affected by that as well.
Can you describe some of the important factors that have helped you gain the confidence to become a public speaker and life coach and/or develop a positive autistic identity?
The same factors that inspire me to do everything else I do today including all my advocating work. I had the greatest moment of my life in 2013 going on stage with country pop singer Shania Twain at one of her shows in Las Vegas. I had a special education teacher in high school who didn’t believe in me. The way Shania treated me on that stage as well as those 4000 people who cheered for me made me realize I’m capable of anything in life, including being brave enough to public speak about autism in front of people. That made me develop a positive autistic identity, and my autism is what makes me gifted.
From Love is Too Hard
I’m a guy who fought my weight my whole life. I’m uncertain if that was a reason I was single for a while. Wear whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable. Pick out one or two good things about yourself and really flaunt those aspects of your appearance. However, if it’s something you can’t do, have confidence and then the weight won’t matter.
Summer clothing was a problem for me. I always liked what was comfortable in the summer, but I don’t think I impressed the ladies with my summer clothes. I always wore gym shorts and baggy t-shirts; I never did my hair. I would sweat like a dog and that would make me look worse. I look back at a lot of my photos in hot weather. I know they could have been better if I had cared more at the time. So, looking at all this, I decided that I needed to start wearing nicer shorts and polos more often, to dress nicer in the hotter weather. It made me look a lot better and built my confidence about my looks. I’m an attractive guy but I never showed it. At least that’s what I think. A lot of men with autism can be attractive guys. Wear things you’re comfortable in and look nice in. I’m telling you these things because I don’t want you guys to have to wait as long as I did to get a girlfriend or to impress women.
Always be yourself, of course, but if there are things you can change, and want to change, change them.