DES MOINES, Iowa — Tyler Leech started at Wells Fargo back in 2015 as an intern. He believes businesses should be hiring more people with autism.

“With them being focused on a certain task and doing things repetitively, they’re able to get production going a bit faster and contribute a lot of support for their team,” he explained.

Dr. Scott Atwood is the Vice President of Adult Services for Balance Autism. One of the organization’s goals is helping people with autism find jobs.

“This isn’t a request to – oh please help the people with autism – this is a thing where we want to come help you fill your positions,” he said. “We’ve got the employee base for you. Open the doors and we can help you out there.”

Tyler is also an advocate. He was pulled over by police back in 2019 because his taillight was out.

“The officer said something I couldn’t hear so I gave him a confused look and he told me to step out of the car,” he explained. “I was handcuffed and they searched the inside of my car and my pockets. They asked if I had drugs on me and I said I never did any drugs in my life!”

It was an embarrassing and emotional experience for Tyler. He shared his story during Autism Day on the hill, and a bill was signed into law allowing people to have an autism indicator added to their driver’s license.  

“A lot of people who are autistic do have the ability to drive, but some things they say or do may not be what some people expect,” Tyler said. “If there’s enough training within law enforcement, they’ll be able to understand autism a bit better.”

That’s exactly why the Des Moines Police Academy invited Tyler to speak to recruits. Sergeant Lorna Garcia is part of the Crisis Intervention Team.

“When officers do traffic stops, we’re used to direct questions and answers so when we get a stalled response or stuttering we think people are lying,” she explained. “Hearing Tyler’s story, it’s important to remember that it could be something else. Maybe we need to slow down. Maybe I need to simplify my questions and read his nonverbals. Is he being evasive or is he just overwhelmed?”

And in Tyler’s case, he might not have footwear.

“Being barefoot is a sensory thing a lot of people who are autistic do,” he showed us. “It makes them more aware of their surroundings and doesn’t make them feel constricted by shoes and socks.”

He created the Barefoot Autism Challenge in 2017 to let people know about the sensory side of autism.

“All you have to do is post a picture or video on social media during the month of April being barefoot and then share why you advocate for someone who’s autistic,” Tyler explained.

From social media to the police department, the statehouse and the workplace Tyler is teaching people everywhere some very important lessons.

“Everyone in this world is important and if you take the time to know someone who’s autistic you can learn about them and yourself in more ways than you can imagine.”

The National Autism Association provides families with a Big Red Safety Box free of charge. The box includes several different tools and resources to help them prevent or respond to emergencies, specifically emergencies related to wandering. Child Serve was also part of the training for police recruits and is another great resource.