By André Floyd, August 1, 2018
Though he may not have always admitted it, Louis Scarantino is one impressive dude.
An aspiring motivational speaker, Louis has no shortage of accomplishments under his belt. He graduated from college cum laude. He’s a published author. He’s currently working on two books, actually, because apparently writing one book just isn’t sufficient.
Most people would consider Louis’ accomplishments remarkable, and I’m not one to disagree. But what I find most remarkable—and what Louis wants you to know about—is the journey he’s taken to get to the destinations at which he finds himself today.
When he was two-and-a-half, Louis was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of Autism. Asperger’s left an indelible mark on Louis’ life, especially in the early years. Most notably, Louis was nonverbal until he was four or five years old. That fact alone made it more challenging for Louis to experience life the same way other kids his age did.
Luckily, he was born into a family with two loving (but tough) parents and with two siblings—a brother and a sister. Louis recalls that seeing how his parents never treated him differently than they treated his siblings was what started to convince him that he could attempt and accomplish things he set his mind to. “They showed me that they weren’t going to treat me any different,” Louis explained to me over the phone one day. “They were tough on all of us because they wanted us to succeed, but that meant they encouraged us through hard times.”
This outlook helped Louis embrace the fact that his disability was not debilitating, and that he could dream of and achieve his goals just like his peers. In high school, Louis remembers seeing kids get jobs, earn their drivers’ licenses and have their own cars. Whereas he once might have assumed that achieving those same milestones would be too complicated, his own understanding of his disability enabled him to reach for those achievements with confidence. When he was 15, for example, Louis walked into Burger King, filled out an application and was interviewed the next day. “I realized, ‘Hey that’s something I can do too, and a driver’s license is something I should have too.’ […] I realized that I wasn’t too much different from anybody else, so once I realized that, that’s when I decided that if I wanted something, that I could use my resources and my motivation to go get it.”
Although having a supportive family was a necessary ingredient in Louis’ journey, on its own it was insufficient. In addition, it helped that Louis grew up in Pennsylvania, a state that has taken progressive steps in supporting and empowering people with disabilities. Says Louis, “Besides my parents and my motivation, the tremendous support system I’ve had throughout the years—all my therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, the people who are working with me now on the Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism Services (BAS)—have been some of the best people who have ever worked with me.”
Indeed, the availability of supports and services was, and continues to be, a guiding buoy in Louis’ life. But those supports and services have had an even deeper impact on Louis’ life because of his outlook and motivation, which helped amplify the impact of those services. Being honest with himself made a big difference. So too did reminding himself that everyone uses supports—regardless of whether that’s how we think of it or whether those supports are delivered by an agency with the word ‘Bureau’ in front of its name. These reminders helped Louis feel comfortable using the services available to him in Pennsylvania, and with that comfort came success.
Before graduating from college, Louis had serious thoughts of dropping out. The classes were tough and he was growing frustrated with himself. “I was once right in front of the door at the admissions office ready to quit college and I thought to myself, ‘Should I do this? Am I making the right choice?’” He may not have been able to see it in that moment, but there’s no doubt now that he made the right choice. “I said, ‘No, this is not right. I’m going to go home and if I have to retake a course, I will. But I’m not going to quit—however long it takes.’”
What Louis realized after turning around and going back home was that it wasn’t that college was too hard—it was that he needed to find better strategies for approaching his difficult classes. He worked with his therapist to develop coping techniques when he felt the stress of not getting the grades he wanted or not understanding the lesson as quickly as he thought he should. Over time, he learned to not get upset, to talk to his instructors when he was struggling, and even to set his work aside for a little while to lower his stress levels and ease his frustration. More than these lessons, Louis learned once again not to be afraid of leaning on the supports and services in place to help him succeed.
Now, living independently in his northeast Pennsylvania community, Louis supplements his writing and speaking with a part-time job at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He continues to set “stretch” goals for himself—goals that motivate him to keep chasing his dreams. “I always have high goals for myself,” said Louis, “and I always aim to achieve higher. I really want to be a well-known Autism advocate. I want people with Autism to know not to give up, to use their resources and to keep aiming high, knowing that anything is possible if you keep fighting for yourself.”
Between the support he received at home from parents who never allowed him to doubt his capability, the resources made available by provider agencies and his university, and his own burning desire to exceed even his own expectations, Louis is a force to be reckoned with. For whatever path Louis takes next, I have no doubt that his journey will be as remarkable as his destination.
To learn more about Louis and his journey as an Autism advocate, visit his website at louisscarantino.com.