TE 29: Michael Goodroe: Overcoming Asperger’s

EPISODE SUMMARY

Michael Goodroe has Asperger’s Syndrome, but refuses to let this control the way he lives life. At the age of 4, the doctor’s told Michael’s parents that he would not be able to go to school or ever live on his own. Instead of listening to the Doctor’s, Michael chose to live life on his terms. Today, Michael is a 2nd degree blackbelt in Taido karate, college graduate, singer, comic book artist and currently studying for his MBA.

In today’s episode, you will learn:

  • How to face your fears
  • How to not take “no” for an answer
  • How to not give up when the going gets tough.

 

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INTRODUCTION

Today’s guest has nothing to do with business, but everything to do with overcoming obstacles, facing your fears, not taking no for an answer, and basically doing what other people tell you you can not do.

Previously, we spoke with Jordan Romero – the youngest person to ever climb Mt. Everest. Today’s guest is a second degree black belt Taido Karate, is working on his MBA, has a college degree and a high school diploma after his parents were told that Michael wouldn’t be able to take care of himself after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 3.

EXCELLING AT AN EARLY AGE WITH ASPERGERS

Michael started practicing Taido at the age of 5, two years after his diagnosis. He’s been practicing Taido for almost 22 years, now. He started early in the sport and art of karate. He’s also taught Taido, two classes ever Saturday. “Some days,” he explains, “I just felt like I wanted to stay home and what Saturday morning Samurai movie in IFC, But, I did enjoy it a lot.”

Michael was also diagnosed, in addition to Asperger’s, with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) – “what it is is that I don’t always perceive information as fast as most people do.”

“Aspergers Syndrome,” Michael explains, “is a type of learning disability, if you will. SROt of behavioral and cognitive disability or condition. One of the problems is that we have trouble recognizing social cues, or expressing ourself socially with other people.”

Aspergers causes a difficulty in concentration, but on a much more extreme level than most people. “But, if you ever talk to any of us [with Aspergers] we’re very creative, and we have our own quirks and eccentricies that are very different than most people.” he explains.

DEALING WITH THE SOCIAL ASPECTS OF ASPERGERS

Michael says he’s always had a hard time, even at an early age. At just a bit more than six months old, “I had upper respiratory illness. The doctor’s thought I wouldn’t make it, which I did, and I’m here now.”
Diagnosed with autism at age 5, the doctor’s told his parents that he would never be able to go to school, and they would need to think about long-term care, since he wouldn’t be able to take care of himself. “But I showed them that I could rise above what people said I could.”

Michael says his mom and dad “wanted to prove the doctors wrong. My parents are very loving, they treated me no different than any other child.”

LEARNING ABOUT ASPERGERS TOGETHER AS A FAMILY

Micheal says his parents learned they needed to figure out how he slept, how his brain works during sleep. They had to conduct a sleep study, so to keep him awake and alert until time for the test, they took him to an amusement park called American Adventures, where he rode rides until midnight. “I wanted to go to sleep, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” he says.

The test was one of the ways the doctors discovered his learning disability. After the diagnosis, his parents could only find one school that would take him. MillSprings Academy, formerly in Sandy Springs, GA, now in Roswell, GA.

“When I went to MillSprings, I felt very alone. I felt scared, because I didn’t have… I didn’t like school very much,” he says.

He says it was hard making friends because of the difficulty in picking up on what other kids were telling him, or how he was supposed to interact with them, due to the Aspergers.

DISCOVERING HE HAS ASPERGERS

Michael says he didn’t discover he had Aspergers — giving him difficulty interacting with others, until he was 13 years of age. “The teachers would always tell me I was a good kid, but I had trouble connecting with other kids. I should mostly talk to people instead of with people. I would just yap on and on about my interest, and certain things that were on my mind.l I have a very, very focused mind at times,”

Micheal explains that he had a very active imaginations, “always been telling people whatever’s on my mind, trivia, pointless stuff, you know. Stuff not relevant to a conversation.”

His parents researched ways to help him interact and conduct conversations with others, “I would always try my best to interact and try to be good about it,”Michael says.

He and his parents would model conversations, in order to learn how to convert and interact with others. “It got lonely at times, growing up, because, as I said, I did have friends, but it was hard for me to really sort of interact too many times. Some days, I felt like a wallflower, like I was just part of the scenery.”

Still unaware he had Aspergers, Michael says puberty was especially difficult.”When puberty hits, and you’re 14 years old and you start liking girls, then that’s the problem. Your heart’s pounding, your blood’s rushing everywhere… you stutter, you’re trying to get the words out, and you’re sweating all the time.

Finally in 2002, at the age of 15, Michael found out he had Aspergers.

On the day of his back belt test, “I had gone home for the day, just trying to relax, watch some TV, when all of the sudden, my mom calls and says, ‘you gotta get dressed, you gotta get dressed back in your Gi.” He had forgotten that there was a tournament after his test.

“So it turns out a cameraman is there from Fox 5. He asked me to do some moves, do the opening of a Tentai No Hokei.

“Then they guy starts asking me two questions. First question was, ‘what do you think about yourself as an inspiration?’ I didn’t understand,” Micheal explains, “because up until this point, I didn’t know I had a problem.”

The second questions was, ‘what were you like when you first started?’ I told him I didn’t know what the word Karate meant, I knew nothing about Japan. But one of the things about my life, I’m glad I did. I went to Japan before I was 16. Twice.” To compete in international tournaments.

SUCCEEDING WITH TAIDO

The martial art of Taido has played a major part in Michael’s life – helping him develop focus, giving hi a sense of accomplishment, and helping him develop. He started Taido with two of his cousins, Katie and Jenny.

Katie and Michael are the same age. “It would always frustrate me how she was always better than me at everything,” he says, “she was smarter than me, she did more than me. What would take most students a week to learn took me a month to learn. But I never wanted to five up on myself, even though some days I felt like I just wanted to quit.”

His karate teacher offered to privately tutor. “I was 6 or 7… he was 16 at the time. And he came to our house and he was willing to privately tutor me to help me catch up and help me better understand the techniques.”

Michael and his family became close friends with his instructor’s family. “I never quit doing to Taido,” he says, even though there were times he wanted  to, “I kept trying and pushing at it. I never wanted to quit, because I love martial arts more than anything.”

Michael says his two cousins, Katie and Jenny had quit Taido by the time he and his younger brother had made their second trip to Japan at the age of 15. His brother, Nathan, won a gold medal in the international tournament. Michael had earned his first degree black belt the year he travelled to Japan.

Currently, there are only a few hundred or so ShoDon level black belts in the martial art of Taido in the United states, arcading to Michael.

BLACK BELT TEST

Michael says there are so few who have earned the black belt because the testing is so difficult. “The test began “first thing at six in the morning,” Jordan says his black belt test lasted close to four hours.

“Imagine doing that first thing in the morning. You’re tired, you feel hung-over… because you feel light-headed, you’re out of it. But I was glad. It was a pretty great day, believe it or not, for me, because that night, I was preparing for Christmas. Thanksgiving was roughly a few days, but we were preparing for Christmas.”

Michael says he had parents who “always wanted me to have faith in myself. They wanted me to be a happy kid, and I was, for a lot of time. I was a happy child,” he says.

Two years later, Michael earned his second degree black belt.

Jordan says Michael’s story is so inspiring to him because he understands the commitment and focus necessary to earn a first-degree, let alone a second-degree black belt in Taido.

SINGING PUBLICLY WITH ASPERGERS

Micheal also has a great singing voice. He performed in four plays while in school: West Side Story, Godspell, Grease and Little Shop of Horrors. He says there’s a tie between Grease and Little Shop of Horrors for his favorite. “Grease was the play I did my freshman year. Little Shop of Horrors was the play I did my senior year.”

Jordan then asks Micheal to sing for the podcast audience. He chooses to sing a song from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc (an Atlanta-based band, interestingly).

GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE WITH ASPERGERS

“I didn’t exactly have too many good prospected for college. Mostly because of my disabilities, but also because it was hard for me at times,” Michael explains. His guidance counselor suggested a junior college.

He found out he could get a singing scholarship, with two colleges sticking out as choices. “One was Columbus State in Columbus, Georgia, and the State University of West Georgia,“ closer to home.

College was difficult, according to Michael. “I’m not going to lie,” he says, “I always had separation anxieties as a kid.” Explaining that while on a class trip to England at age 13, “I cried the first three days because I am a very emotionally sensitive kid. I was a very emotionally sensitive kid, and I mis my mom and dad, and that’s how I felt.”

The first week of college, “I decided to go with it… to deal with what I’ve been given, a chance to prove to be on my own, which I took. UWG was a great place,” he says.

During his first semester, he failed a course he needs to take for music. And, since music degrees normally take about five years, “I changed my major during my first semester because I felt that being a music major wasn’t really what I wanted to do with my life.”

Jordan then asks Michael to address the issue of his separation anxiety, “so you had this fear of separating from your family. Yet, you faced your fear.”
Michael says he knew his parents loved him and “they would do whatever they could to help me adjust.” His mom even stayed with him the first week of college at UWG in Carrolton, so he could adjust. “After that, I was very sufficient and could spend weeks by myself. But, because Carrolton was never too far from home, only an hour and a half drive, I went home on the weekends.”

PROVING HIS DOCTORS WRONG ABOUT ASPERGERS

Michael says he works hard to succeed. Which helped him finish high school and college – which the doctors said he’d never be able to do. “My mom and dad are very great people, and my dad had just wanted me — didn’t want me to be Valedictorian. He said, ‘Michael, I just want you to get a C and a degree, and I’ll be happy.”

Michael finished his college degree in five years. He says “it was a pretty great feeling. But, it was also somewhat of a scary feeling, because now I don’t have the structure of academia anymore. I didn’t know how to be an adult. I didn’t know how to have a job, believe it or not. I never had a paid job until I got out of college.”

DEALING WITH COLLEGE

Saying he struggled with classes, yet, he “never missed a single day of class, even when I was sick.” He says, there were other challenges, in college, as well.

“Another challenge of course was girls,” he says. “I tried to find a nice girl to hang out with, or maybe start dating. I wasn’t looking for any serious commitment, I just wanted to see what it was like to have a girlfriend, that’s all. But every time I tried, the girls were either with someone, or  not interested.”

ON BEING AN MBA STUDENT, WITH ASPERGERS

Michael is currently beginning his work on an MBA. He’s the youngest student in a class of eight students.

“I just finished my first class. I’m on the next class. It’s going to be a long 19 months before I know it, and it’s going to be crazy, ” he says, “I have so much ahead of me right now. I got projects I gotta do.”

THE CREATIVE SIDE OF ASPERGERS

Michael also has a YouTube channel called “Martial Arts Guy,” under the user name, White Tiger 770. “ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had an active imagination. One thing I want to do is be a comic book writer. I love to read comic books, and I want to share — I feel that with comic books, I can make my stories without ever having to worry about the limitations that a movie or a TV show should offer me,” he explains.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THOSE WITH ASPERGERS

Asking Michael about the common misconceptions about Aspergers, Teenage Entrepreneur host, Jordan Agolli gives Michael the opportunity to explain the syndrome to the audience.

“Most people assume that we’re not smart, or we are weird. We’re highly functioning adults,” he explains, “we’re actually very smart people. Just listen to me. I’m having an intellectual conversation with you, Jordan.”

“This is how a lot of people with Autism would communicate with each other,” he continues, “we’re very engaging, we’re  very nice people.”
He says another misconception is that those with Autism or Aspergers do not pay attention. “It’s partially true, not entirely true. Sometimes we’re talking to someone, we zone out. But, we do pay attention, and we do have great attention spans.”
He says he also has a great memory. “I can recall events from my life that some people would fine minute or not important.”

He says that if he could change one thing about the way the world views those with Autism and Aspergers is the way the world treats them. “I would want them to change [the way] they talk down… sometimes people talk down to people with Autism. And you know, honestly, if I could just say this, it kind of ticks me off that people would talk down to people with Autism. Just because we think differently, we process information differently, doesn’t mean you treat us like children.”

MICHAEL’S FUTURE LIFE WITH ASPERGERS

Michael says his future includes completing his MBA. He’s also planning a trip to Disney World in the near future.
“Long term, what I want. I want to start my comic book publishing company. And you know, maybe give  young writers and artists a way in. That’s what I want to start it for. Because trying to get into the comic book writing business, it’s been kind of hard for me. No one… few people will read any of my scripts.”

“I’m not saying I can’t [get a comic book published], I’m just saying it’s another challenge. But, I know if I’m ready to be writing, because it’s hard for me to finish a story on a deadline. My mom thinks that if I did become a writer professionally, because I love to do it, I want to do it as a career. But, if I had to do it as a career, my mom says that one day I would grow not to love it if I started right now, and she’s actually kind of right.”

Michael says he also wants to speak publicly about dealing with Aspergers.

“Sharing elements of my own story, trying to relate it to others with Aspergers,” he explains. To date, Michael has already spoken to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and one or two parents groups about Autism awareness. “I believe that Autism and some awareness is important, because people have many misconceptions about Autism and various learning disabilities. And, I feel that if by reaching out to theses people and information them, they can make better decisions on how to treat people.”

“Life is like climbing a coconut tree,” says Michael, while trying to explain his life philosophy. “Climbing a coconut tree is never easy. There’s no branches to cling on, and you gotta shimmy up there, or you could fall of or slide down. But, once you get the coconut, it’s just a sweet reward.”

He concludes with a piece of advice, as requested by Jordan.

“Your obstacles can be overcome. You can change your life. Just don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Don’t be afraid to walk through th doors people open for you. You don’t have to do it alone. Just because you hear all these stories about people accomplishing great things by themselves doesn’t mean you have to.”

JORDAN’S CONCLUSION

“Usually, after each episode, I have a long follow-up on the episode and overview… Michael said it all, and his story is such an inspiration. You’re not alone.”

“And when I listen to somebody like Michael share his story and overcome these obstacles, face his fears and improve his social interaction, then go get his undergrad, and study for his MBA… who are we to make excuses? He doesn’t make any excuses, he just gets it done.”