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Celebrating Autism Acceptance Month: Meet Adam Felton, a 21-year-old Boise artist with autism

7's HERO: April is Autism Acceptance Month. A Boise man with autism says it's the perfect time to celebrate what makes people with autism in our community special.

BOISE, Idaho — Adam Felton is 21-years-old, and he lives in Boise. He graduated from Borah High School, he's a graphic artist, he works at a local pizza place, and he has autism.

We caught up with him at Idaho Pizza Company in Boise while he was on the job. He likes to start his shift by folding pizza boxes.

"I do enjoy the box-making stuff, I fold boxes really easily, so I do fold them pretty quickly," Adam told KTVB. 

His boss Danica Pace says he's a great employee, and just a joy to be around. 

"I don't have anyone in my store who can build boxes faster than he can," said Pace with a smile. "He came to us over a year ago and we hired him on, and he has been an absolute blessing. He is a hard worker, he is helpful, kind and he is so funny." 

Adam said he feels right at home surrounded by his coworkers. He loves coming to work. 

"I just think they are really nice people," Adam said. 

He was diagnosed with autism at three years old after losing his ability to speak. His mom Tabitha Felton says she had no idea what autism was, but she knew one thing, she would be her son's greatest advocate.

"I went and did a lot of reading and research, I found out about autism at that time, and it gave me strength to help Adam be the best he could be even though doctors gave me a very grim outlook for him," said Tabitha Felton, Adam's mom. "They said he would never talk again, never graduate high school, never live a normal life, never work. I said that's not going to be Adam."

Adam made huge strides in speech and occupational therapies, and horse therapy was a game-changer for him. At 5-years-old, he started talking again and he hasn't stopped since. Adam went through school in a traditional classroom, and he thrived. He loved school, often getting straight As. He went to Meridian Middle School and graduated from Borah High School. Now, he's enrolled in the Boise S.T.E.P. Program. S.T.E.P. is the continuation of services for IEP students who are 18-21 years old and have graduated high school.

"The step program teaches him how to be as independent as possible, so when he does get to be on his own one day he will know how to budget, pay bills, rent, grocery shop, cook," said Tabitha Felton. "It's a great program."

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and it's a really special month for Adam. April used to be known as Autism Awareness Month. But in 2021, the name changed to Autism Acceptance Month. The Autism Society of America announced the shift in terminology last year to inspire change. The organization says, "Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism. Acceptance is when you accept and include a person with autism in your activities, help them to develop in that community, and to have that incredible sense of connection to other people." 

"For me personally, it's a celebration for kids and adults that have Autism," said Adam. "I think the important reason we celebrate is so families can know their kids diagnosed with autism are special, and they can see they are capable of doing excellent and great things, and there is nothing wrong with being different. Being different can be a great strength."

Adam is a talented artist, and years ago, he wanted to make something cool to celebrate. That's how his powerful "autismasaurus" was born.  

"Autismasaurus to me represents people who have autism and what they can do, that's what I wanted," said Adam. "A character for us."  

Adam made t-shirts with his autismasaurus on them, to spread the message of acceptance, and to start conversations about autism. His coworkers think his art is really impressive, but what's even more impressive, is his mission to educate others. 

"He is a special person and he is amazing, and everyone deserves to be celebrated," said Danica Pace, Manager at Idaho Pizza Company. "The fact that he knows he is worth celebrating is an amazing thing!"

Adam has a special message for parents who have a child on the spectrum. 

"Having autism for your child is a gift, and they can discover for themselves and from family members what they want to do, and you get to help encourage them."  

Adam's mom is so proud of her son, and everything he is today. He is truly special, celebrating exactly who he is in April, and all year long.

He's my hero, he's made me the mom I am today," said Tabitha Felton. "He just makes people's lives better. He brings out that joy in people and he makes the world a better place with him in it."

If you would like to purchase an austismasaurus t-shirt, email autismasaurustshirts@gmail.com

For more information on Autism Acceptance Month, check out the Autism Society of America.

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