Xavier DeGroat: the First White House Intern Diagnosed with Autism

Xavier DeGroat with Obama

“I’m a relentless guy who goes on and on.” Xavier DeGroat

By Ron Sandison

Xavier DeGroat is motivated, authentic and relentless. These characteristics enabled him to build a strong resume and a celebrity contact list equivalent to a Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Xavier has met former Presidents Obama and Trump, and Hall of Fame athletics like Muhammad Ali and Dan Marino, famous scientist Stephen Hawking, and religious leader the Dalai Lama. Soon he will meet with Pope Francis and President Joe Biden to advocate for autism.

Xavier DeGroat with John Lewix
Xavier DeGroat with Civil Rights icon John Lewis

Xavier’s formula for success is persistence. Never accept “no” for an answer.

Xavier’s story inspired civil rights icon John Lewis to create an autism awareness video. In March 2018, he met for breakfast with former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and after their meeting Schwarzenegger’s tweeted, “‪It was such an honor to have breakfast with Xavier DeGroat, who is an incredible autism advocate… Remember his name, because he’s doing big things.”‬ (https://twitter.com/schwarzenegger/status/976868674681352197?lang=en) ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Xavier was a guest on the Mike Huckabee show and just completed an internship at the White House. Xavier’s friendship with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani provided him the opportunity for his internship. Xavier met Giuliani after keynote speaking at the Els Center of Excellence in Jupiter, FL. Xavier’s most important achievement is establishing laws to empower and protect individuals with autism and other disabilities.

DeGroat experienced many challenges as he became an international advocate for autism and a force to be reckoned with.

“I was diagnosed with autism at age four and experienced epilepsy, anxiety, and trouble communicating especially with sarcasm or coping with any kind of nuances.”

In my elementary years, I was chased in the hallways by bullies and labeled the “R” word. My speech impediment made it difficult for me to share ideas in class. I felt misunderstood and like an outsider.

Xavier was born on October 17th, 1990, in Colorado Springs. As a young child his family relocated often for his dad’s job as a labor worker at Delphi. Constant transition made it even more difficult for Xavier to develop and maintain friendships. He lived in the state of Kentucky and the city of Saginaw for a few years before finding a permanent home in Lansing, the State Capital of Michigan.

High school presented new challenges and learning experiences.

“It was not until I went to high school that I faced my highest consequences being disciplined often for many injustice reasons. The main injustice I experienced was bullies teasing me and when I responded back, the teacher would send me to the principal’s office. I was treated as a trouble maker. This bullying caused my parents to homeschool me my junior year. Through homeschooling, I become more confident and learned to be an advocate by studying civil rights leaders.”

DeGroat took educational courses on leadership and was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-violence Principles and I have a Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Homeschooling provided Xavier the chance to study in-depth subjects related to his interests of history and science. Xavier enjoyed reading books at the library and watching documentary films by his hero Ken Burns. Through studying Xavier was motivated to be a civil rights and autism advocate.

As a child the economic hardship and poverty, Xavier observed in Saginaw fueled a desire to have a positive impact on the urban community and create programs and laws to help them. Living in the State Capital of Michigan sparked Xavier’s interests in politics.

“With the injustice and discrimination I faced growing up, I became interested in the civil rights and human rights movements of the 50s, 60s and 70s that inspired me to do the same for autism rights. Living in Lansing, I learned how politics can play a role in bringing social change just as Susan B. Anthony did for the women rights suffrage movement and helped bring about the 1920 women voting rights act and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did for the 1964 Civil rights act. I wanted to help lead and built a better environment and understanding of the mental health and mental discrimination that exist.”

Xavier’s friendship with Republican State Senator Tom Barrett helped him learn the political culture and the importance of bipartisanship in establishing laws. In June 2020, Barrett helped shepherd a three-bill package into law that allows drivers with autism to indicate on their license and vehicle registration their communication difficulties. This information helps law enforcement during traffic stops to understand the driver with autism’s behavioral and not misinterpret their behavior as aggression. Two of the three bills were sponsored by Democratic Senator Curtis Hertel of East Lansing and Republican Frank Liberati of Allen Park.

The motivation for these laws came to Xavier after he was pulled over for speeding. At the time of the traffic stop, DeGroat was on his cellphone talking to Tom Hanks’ staff, attempting to setup a meeting with the actor.

The officer demanded Xavier to open his window and hand over his driver’s license and registration. The officer and Xavier began to raise their voices and talk over each other. The stress of the traffic stop combined with the bright lights caused Xavier to have a panic attack. Thoughts raced through his mind, “What am I doing wrong?” “Is the officer mad at me? Can you turn that light off behind me because it’s making me worried that you’re going to hurt me?”

After this altercation, Xavier thought there must be a better way to alert police when they are dealing with an individual with autism or other conditions that make communications difficult.

Former Lansing mayor Virg Bernero served as a mentor and motivator for Xavier. “Bernero helped me develop confidence, and gave me knowledge of how cities are structured economically, socially and politically that made me later consider creating a foundation for my community facing challenges with autism.”

In early 2018, Xavier founded the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation (XDAF). The mission of the XDAF is to provide support to individuals and families of those with autism by providing them with opportunities to become economically, socially and politically successful. The foundation is dedicated to advocating on behalf of those with autism, which could mean pushing for equal treatment in employment and housing or combatting other injustices against those with the diagnosis.

Next DeGroat would take autism to Washington, D.C. Interning three months in the presidential correspondence office at the White House responding to letters people wrote to the commander-in-chief. The internship provided DeGroat more opportunities to serve as an autism ambassador and network with politicians.

I bring non-partisanship to D.C and make politics non-polarized because autism has no political boundary. My desire is to help my community and bring awareness to their needs.

Xavier shared the humorous story of meeting former president Trump. In the middle of their conversation, Trump said to him, “If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known that you were autistic.” Xavier responded, warning him, “If I started calling you up, you would know I was autistic because I would just keep calling you.”

Xavier’s current goal is to advise future presidents on autism the way the late Rev. Billy Graham served as a spiritual counsel to commanders-in-chief.

“The White House, at this point, is going to be my permanent institution that I work with to make differences for people with autism. I know this may sound unusual or different but I desire to be known as the evangelist for autism to presidents like a Billy Graham.”

Xavier DeGroat

Xavier DeGroat’s Biography

Xavier DeGroat is the first intern at the White House diagnosed with autism and the founder of Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation. The mission of XDAF is “To create and promote opportunities for people with autism through advocacy, education, economic opportunities, and humanitarian efforts.” Xavier resides in Lansing, MI. See more about Xavier DeGroat on his website here or you can contact Xavier at info@xavierdegroatfoundation.org.

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com.

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