HOPE MILLS, N.C. (WNCN) – A Hope Mills teen with autism who used track and field to overcome adversity looks to use his story to inspire others.
Right now, 65,000 people in North Carolina have autism spectrum disorder.
Terrell Gardner was diagnosed with autism at age 3.
His parents said they never thought he’d be able to attend college.
Edwina Gardner said her son was shy and very nervous as a kid.
Terrell Gardner would be OK at home, but his mother said she worried about him at school.
“You see your child around other kids and you know they’re totally different when they’re at home and school. You don’t want nothing to hurt them or anybody to hurt them,” Edina Gardner said.
During middle school and early in high school, Terrell stayed to himself.
Gray’s Creek High School counselors said he walked with his head down and as close to the wall as possible just to avoid people.
“I just wanted to be alone. I felt sad, didn’t want to talk,” Terrell Gardner said.
Each autism case is different.
Experts say making it past high school is a giant step.
“It’s kinda hard for them to be able to find someone like them, friends that will overlook they’re quirkiness,” said Steven King with the Autism Society of North Carolina.
But track and field changed Terrell Garnder’s life.
His parents said he developed confidence and became more social, especially when he heard cheers from the crowd.
There was even more excitement Thursday as Terrell graduated from high school with honors.
He walked across the stage not with his head dow,n but with high hopes and a desire to inspire others.
“Just be yourself, you’ll eventually come out of it,” Terrell Garnder said.
Edwina Gardner said the family is proud of him.
“I’m so proud of him, my husband and his brothers, we are proud of him.”
Terrell Gardner will soon be attending the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
He plans to major in education and wants to be a world history teacher.
More information about autism resources in our state can be found at www.autismsociety.org.