To celebrate autism acceptance month, I’m going to post something positive about autism every day through April.
You know who really deserves more attention from the autistic community? The MMA fighter John “Doomsday” Howard.
Howard is a professional mixed martial artist specializing in Thai-jitsu. He has a pretty great win-rate of 65,8% (25 wins, 13 losses) and has even partnered with the UFC from time to time, which is about as good as an MMA partnership gets.
He was diagnosed with clinical autism two years ago (at age 33), which he now speaks very openly about.
Howard didn’t have an easy childhood at all. He was in a special needs class as a kid and said that both the teachers and the neurotypical students would bully him constantly, both physically and verbally. And because he was special needs, he said that people wouldn’t even believe him about the abuse;
“It was the hardest, freakin’ scariest thing. I was getting teased every day. People would try to beat me up. It was terrible. I was being called retard. ‘How come you’re in the retarded class? You can’t talk. You’re stupid.’”
Howard’s teenage years didn’t get easier. He grew up in the most violent, criminal part of Boston. It got to a point where he heard his friend being forced sell drugs by thugs who threatened to rape his family. Just a really terrible place to live, especially for an autistic introvert;
“I wasn’t, like, some punk kid who had a privileged life. My mother was a single mother, and she wasn’t able to take care of me as a teenager. At the age of 14, I wasn’t going out to parties—I had a job.
Some fights I had to fight were just to get home.”
Howard used comic books to escape from his difficult life, it was a bit of a special interest for him. He particularly identified with the Superman villain Doomsday, who was a good guy forced into doing bad things- hence Howard’s nickname.
Instead of letting all the bullying and ableism get to him, Howard instead focused on intense training and self-defense until he became a professional MMA fighter in 2009.
After getting diagnosed, Howard said that his biggest goal is to inspire autistic kids because he knows how much bullying they often go through. He has achieved some level of fame from his fighting and he wants to show them that if he can do it, they can do it too.
It’s important to note that Howard is one of the rare black autistic role models out there, which is extremely important for autistic kids of color to have. Here is a video where he talks about his autism:
Howard was also featured in a documentary about sport and autism. He has three daughters and he’s just an all-around great guy. I generally don’t watch any fighting sports, but I like to watch some of Howard’s fights just because it makes me happy to have autistic people like him in the world. He doesn’t fight much anymore (only one fight in 2017…) but he’s still active on Twitter, so hopefully he’ll return soon. Here is one of my favorite quotes from him:
“It’s a technical term, because that’s what people label it as. I don’t consider myself disabled. I consider myself, if anything, advantaged. My disability, if that’s what you want to call it, is mine. They label autism as a disability. I label autism as an advantage, because once you beat that advantage, what’s going to stop you now?”
Happy April to all autistic and neurodiverse people! I hope you all have a wonderful month.
(Day 5/30, follow #aprilautismpositivity for more)