Rock Rapids, Iowa boy uses charm to sway lawmakers and help others with autism
By Sarah Te Slaa, Multimedia Producer/ Anchor - email
Sam uses his charm to sway lawmakers and help others with autism.
ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa (KTIV) -
Sam Wessels is a typical 11-year-old boy. He likes video games and having fun. But what you might not realize is that he has autism.
"It's basically a diagnosis that makes it hard for people to communicate and do everyday things," said Sam.
Even though Sam can do most things on his own now, that wasn't always the case. When Sam was two, he stopped talking and progressing. That's when doctors diagnosed him with the disorder.
"Honestly, it was terrifying," says Lin Wessels, Sam's mom. "That hurt a lot. Fear I think that was the biggest thing. What will become of my child?"
Lin, turned her fear of the unknowns of autism into activities. With her son by her side, every chance she got, she'd talk to politicians and ask them how they are helping people with autism. "'What are you doing? Why aren't you doing more? What can you do? Because people out here are suffering. Some people with autism suffer and at that time our family was suffering," said Lin.
But when Sam started speaking again, he really found his voice.
"I talked to pretty much every candidate that comes to Iowa," said Sam.
Six years ago, Sam made his first, bold move on Senator John MccCain.
"I basically asked him if they had any plans to help people around the world with autism," said Sam.
"I have to tell you it was very effective," said Lin. "No one in that room expected that from this little red-haired boy who had a hard time getting his words out."
And since he's starting speaking up, he's met most of the presidential candidates, Iowa's governor and lieutenant governor, and he's even met the president twice.
"He was actually a very nice guy," says Sam. He could have just patted me on the head and walked on by, but he actually listened to every word I said."
Democrats or Republicans, no matter the political party, Sam's probably already bent their ear about his cause. He does it for one reason.
"Basically it's the fact that I have autism and that I'm one of a few that can actually speak up for myself, so I feel I should speak up for other people who can't speak at all," said Sam.
"We felt that even if it didn't make a difference at least we were trying," said Lin. "Not trying you know what the results are going to be, but trying you never know."
But it is making a difference. Because of his campaign, Sam was chosen to be a part of the United States of Autism, a documentary on autism that's playing around the country. It's a pretty big deal.
"I'm surprised that nobody asked for my autograph," said Sam.
His latest success is a CNN iReport award. It's for a video Sam made about life with autism.
"It's basically a video you post of what you feel about and what you feel is right and mine was about autism and I got the personal reward from CNN," said Sam.
Out of 100,000 video entries, only six were chosen. Sam's was one of them.
"It's awesome," said Sam.
It's also pretty awesome how far Sam has come personally. From a silent toddler to a talkative pre-teen.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would be making a difference," said Lin.
And he has no plans to stop.
"I'm going to continue helping people around the world with autism," said Sam.
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