By Matt Larson
We are all different in our own unique way, and it’s the celebration of our differences that makes us stronger as a whole. That’s certainly been the experience for Lenny Taylor, a 38-year-old man living with autism, who manages to find himself being treated like family no matter where he goes. With his love for life he carries a magnetic energy that both friends and strangers have gravitated toward throughout his life. Even his friends in high school rallied together to make him their official Prom King. This June, 2017, Lenny is excited to go back to Pinole Valley High School for his 20-year reunion.
“20 years ago we left high school and went to our own destinations,” said Lenny. “We went to colleges and universities, then to careers after that. Some went to broadcast stations, TV and radio, Safeway, Lucky’s, 7-11, gas stations…” So really, the full gamut. After high school Lenny took classes at Contra Costa College from 1997-2001, and ended up filming their college football games for about 7 years, from 1997-2004, so the coaches and players could review their performance. One year he even made the team as a backup place kicker, and he was later promoted to being the onsite field manager from 1999-2003.
Lenny has come a long way since his childhood, but he hasn’t done it alone. His mother, Lola Taylor, has been his guiding light. “She’s been teaching me everything,” said Lenny. “She’s my mother. I love her a lot.” The relationship between the two of them is so special that Lola has published a book about their journey through life together. It’s called The Spirit King: A Parent’s Journey with her Autistic Son. It’s self-published and available for purchase at her website, educationequalssuccess.com.
Lola is an educator by profession, and has always done her best to prepare Lenny for success. “He surprises me every day with more than what I think he can do, so I never underestimate him,” she says. “I’ve always prepared Leonard. That’s one thing that’s really important: prepare your son or daughter. Like when it’s time to move out and all of that, you prepare them ahead of time, you don’t just dump it on them in the last minute.”
We asked Lenny how his friends would describe him, and he responded: “Upbeat.” He’s always got something to talk about and has a wonderfully positive outlook on life. “He loves life. He loves meeting people and having friends,” said Lola. “There’s so much more to him than just his autism.”
Lenny is a big fan of amusement parks and he loves the songs they play. “My favorite songs are retro throwback songs from the 1960’s, ’70’s, 80’s, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, all the way to Selena Gomez and Katy Perry.” And he’s proud of his musical tastes! “Whenever my downstairs neighbor has hip hop music on, I put on my own amusement park music.”
Of all the amusement parks out there, Scandia is where Lenny can be found the most, watching all the sports and eating cheese pizza. “And playing Galaga, my favorite arcade game,” he said. “Leonard’s like part of the family down there,” Lola adds. “They’ve known him so long, they even let him run the New Year’s Eve countdown. They have him for all their big parties.”
Thanks to the Scandia team offering their support, Lenny has become a force to be reckoned with when it comes to playing the Galaga arcade game. In fact, he even gave a speech on the subject at the annual California Extreme arcade games show in Santa Clara. “I did a lengthy speech about Galaga’s tips and tricks,” said Lenny. “Told them how to capture early, how to gain double power, how to avoid bombs … I can reach a high score up to 200,000 or so on some Galaga machines that behave properly.” When Lenny asked to do this speech, Lola was pleasantly surprised.
“I was very surprised he would do that,” she said. “A lot of autistic people wouldn’t want to stand up there in front of a bunch of people and start talking, but he did! Everybody clapped, everybody thought it was great, and I did too.” Lenny is always surprising his mother on practically a daily basis with how much he’s still growing and developing. “As he gets older he seems to be doing more and more things that are out of character with autism.”
Someday Lenny hopes to become a digital DJ with two turntables lighting up the night! He’s also got a great eye for film and has been trying to land an internship at a local TV station. But he’s got his 20-year reunion coming up, and he’s happy with all that he’s got going on.
To anyone out there with autism, or who knows someone who could use some advice, Lenny has some for you: “I would tell them they have special powers,” he said. “They also need to work on motoring and eye coordination tools on electronic old-school gaming.”
To any parents out there who have kids with autism, Lola wants to share her story with you and let you know that there is lots of support out there. “I know what it feels like to have this situation happen to you,” she said. “You feel like you’re alone, but you’re really not alone. The is hope, and it’s okay, because these kids bring lots of really great gifts to us, if we would just open our eyes and look at them.”