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Xavier DeGroat, who made history as an autistic White House intern, is once again making his mark by opening a museum in Michigan dedicated to the history of autism.
DeGroat, a 31-year-old Lansing resident who interned for President Trump, celebrated the grand opening of his Autism History Museum on Feb. 4. He hopes the museum will raise awareness and serve as a welcoming community space for children and adults. .
“There has never been an autism history museum like this,” DeGroat told Fox News Digital.
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The museum is located inside the Meridian Mall, which is not far from bustling Michigan State University and the Michigan Capitol. He was helped to open the museum by legendary former MSU football coach Mark Dantonio, who along with his wife, Becky, made a donation to get the project started.
Dantonio said DeGroat had a “big heart” and was “trying to do good” for a lot of people.
“I got to know X when I was coaching football at Michigan State and he came to practice quite often,” Dantonio told Fox News Digital on Saturday, calling DeGroat by his nickname. “I got to know him over time and learned about his mission and what he was trying to do. I thought it was a good cause that would touch a lot of people and that I could support a little bit. and do something positive for it.”
DeGroat made national headlines in 2020 when he landed a White House internship under Trump. He is believed to be the first person to reveal an autism diagnosis to a White House intern.
His new museum is in a mall storefront that houses the offices of his foundation as well as a timeline of the sometimes painful history of autism, starting in the 1900s.
Autism was once labeled as part of schizophrenia and then mental retardation, and some were even considered “devils by society,” DeGroat said. Nonetheless, people on the spectrum and those who showed signs of autism but were never fully diagnosed had a “profound” impact on society, including Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Greta Thunberg and Elon Musk, did he declare.
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“There were a lot of negative stories, but also a lot of positive autism stories and that’s what I’m showing,” DeGroat said.
DeGroat is happy the museum is in the mall, which is a gathering space for students and families. And the Meridian Mall has also embraced the new partnership.
“It’s just a real big win-win for us and for him,” Dan Irvin, senior managing director of CBL Properties, which owns and operates Meridian Mall, told Fox News Digital. “Having the first Autism History Museum at Meridian Mall is spectacular. And I’ll tell you, I don’t know anyone else who is as committed to getting that message across as Xavier. He’s fantastic.”
DeGroat started the Xavier DeGroat Foundation for Autism based in Lansing in 2018 to help other people with autism overcome barriers and he has already used this platform to change public policy at national and local levels.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bipartisan law in 2020 that DeGroat had sought to allow state driver’s licenses and license plates to tell law enforcement that a person had autism or had a communication disorder.
The new designation – embedded in data stored on the ID card – should alert police that when arresting an autistic person, the sensory overload of lights and sirens may have signaled a meltdown situation that could be misunderstood by an officer approaching. People with autism can also have difficulty communicating and can be very sensitive to physical touch, which can cause them to react in ways that an officer might perceive as threatening.
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DeGroat also successfully worked with Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Michael Burgess, R-Texas, on a bipartisan letter to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to acknowledge state ID cards that indicate that someone has a communication problem. The added information will alert TSA officers on how to accommodate people with autism who may have sudden reactions to sounds, stress and touch associated with airline security.
“Ever since I met Xavier in 2016 when he was interned in my congressional office, I have come to expect him to achieve whatever he has in mind,” Kildee told Fox News Digital. . “I congratulate him on this latest achievement.”
Diagnosed with autism at age 4 and misunderstood for much of his childhood, DeGroat had a tough time in school. He was bullied and called names like “retard”. His peers encouraged him to do things, like pulling on rubber bands in class, that got him in trouble. In high school, when he struggled to cope and had a lot of anxiety, he found respite in the library, where he began reading about influential leaders.
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At 18, his father began taking him regularly to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where DeGroat dreamed of working there and one day becoming a curator.
Now that he has his own museum, DeGroat hopes people can appreciate the unique individual traits of others and not count them out because of perceived disability.
“I want people to know that autism is just a label,” he said. “And that doesn’t define that person.”