BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — The walls of State Delegate Michele Guyton's home are filled with family photos, artwork from her three sons and things they consider to be impactful to their lives. That includes a page of math equations drawn out by her oldest son Forrest.
The complex math problem is a glimpse into Forrest's mind, who has autism. Guyton said he discovered his gift for math and science around the age of eight or nine.
"That positivity that recognizing, sure you are different we're not going to try to hide that. But you have these gifts that are amazing and we're going to find them and help you develop those was a big part of his experience," she said.
While he excels in math and science, Guyton said her son has struggled in other areas. HIs grades would sometimes slip in other subjects and he had a tough time communicating with his teachers. When it came time to apply for graduate school, she said he was rejected from several colleges and it was usually the interview portion that was his greatest barrier.
"The social anxiety piece that comes with having an autism spectrum disorder can always be enormous for these kids," she said. "We're not going to make great advances in math and science and caring for the world unless we foster those abilities in people even if those people can't necessarily communicate them well."
Forrest is just one reason why Guyton has made it her mission to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. She is a state delegate for district 42B in Baltimore County and is planning to introduce several pieces of legislation in the General Assembly next year, including the creation of a state coordinator for developmental disabilities like autism.
"We have a lot of great programs around the state in the different departments but we don't have anyone who coordinates those and is charged with developing strategic master plan for how we are going to deal with the issues that are before us."
Her legislation is modeled after a proposal the autism advocacy group SafeMinds is pushing for on the federal level. Executive director Lisa Wiederlight said they want to see an autism coordinator put in place.
"There is no accountability for the coordination of all the state level resources so families, mine included, have had trouble getting the services we need and there are very long waiting lists for services," Wiederlight said.
SafeMinds is also working on amending the Autism Cares Act recently signed into law by President Trump, which allocates $1.8 billion in research on causes and treatments.
"What we really want is policy-focused research, not just research that researchers decide to do but there has to be priorities set by the federal government," she said.
To continue its advocacy work, SafeMinds is holding its largest fundraiser of the year on November 8 called "Fashion Rocks Autism." Guyton will be among the models walking the runway, and she'll be thinking about her son Forrest, who is attending graduate school at the University of Arizona.
"[People with autism] are the way that they are for a reason. Its society that needs to change and not just accommodate but value those differences and recognize that there are fabulous things that we can learn from all of them."
"Fashion Rocks Autism" is happening at the Delta Hotel by Marriott Baltimore Hunt Valley. There will be a live and silent auction, music by the band "That's What She Said" and a fashion show. New this year is a Party Rock Power Hour following the fashion show. For information about tickets and the event, click here.