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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Vinokurov

Tyler Leech - The Autistic Barefoot Challenger

Updated: Jan 3

I got a brand new guest story! This guest story was written by Tyler Leech, an autistic self advocate:

"My name is Tyler Leech. I'm 30 years old, I'm from Des Moines Iowa, and I'm autistic. When I was 22 months old, I lost my language and all the words from my mom's baby book, especially mama. I was diagnosed at the University of Iowa at that time, and my mom didn't know if I would be able to drive, talk, or graduate college. I eventually got my speech back about two years later, and I was able to do all the things my mom thought I wouldn't be able to do. But some of those moments are stories for another time.

I'm also founder of the Barefoot Autism Challenge. The way the challenge works is during the month of April, you post a picture or video of you walking barefoot and share what advocating for someone who's autistic means to you using #barefootautismchallenge. I started barefoot walking in 2013 after hearing about it from someone who has an autistic son. I found out I like walking barefoot because it's a good sensory activity. I thought of doing a challenge for a barefoot running online group in 2017 and the administrator encouraged me to make a Facebook page. I was a bit on the fence at first because I didn't know how well it would be received.

What did I know? It became popular with the autism community and the barefoot community. These days I share my challenge at autism conferences and events and I sometimes bring it up when people see me barefoot out and about or if I see other people who are barefoot. I started out the first years as a basic walk barefoot and show support, and in 2020 I did themes for the challenge; which definitely came in handy during Covid. I have also done bingo, a giveaway, and an exercise theme to coincide with my training for the Special Olympics USA Games. I even have a Zazzle store that has merchandise with my challenge logo on it with the royalty from each purchase going to the Autism Society of Iowa.

Come April 2024, we'll have an art theme for the Barefoot Autism Challenge. Be sure to get your feet in artist mode and express your creativity. Be sure to follow my challenge on Facebook and Instagram for more."

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