- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

PROVO, Utah (AP) - Michael Nielson is so good at designing and creating costumes, he was a popular attraction at Salt Lake City’s sold out Comic Con in 2014.

“He was Garrett from the video game ‘Thief’ and had built the glowing green eye. People kept stopping him to take pictures with him,” said his father, Bruce Nielson. “When he was in line to see his favorite group, Studio C, Stacey (Harkey) raved about his costume.”

Michael is a 15-year-old sophomore at Mountain View High School in Orem, the second oldest of four children in Bruce and Julene Nielson’s family. He’s a costume designer, born engineer, animal whisperer and budding author. He also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a part of the autism spectrum of development disorders, but those with Asperger’s are typically more high functioning and of normal or higher intelligence. Similar to autism, they struggle with many things, including social interactions and communication. As for Michael, his parents and extended family just sit in awe of who he’s become.

“He wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until fourth grade, because he was so high functioning and very smart. But every day of school I’d get a phone call about him,” Julene Nielson said.

Michael struggled socially in elementary school, often reacting in anger and frustration when faced with the seemingly bewildering behavior of his fellow students.

“He doesn’t understand sarcasm, teasing, or even subtleties of social interaction. He’d get so angry and lash out physically, so he was always getting into trouble,” Bruce Nielson said.

Once diagnosed, he was able to get into special education classes, and he started to excel. In the smaller class size and with fewer distractions, he started to shine. Still, in sixth grade the school told his parents Michael probably wouldn’t graduate from high school. That surprised and shocked Michael and his parents, so they made a goal to prove them wrong.

“By the end of eighth grade he’d worked himself out of all of his special ed classes, and he got his emotional stuff under control,” Julene Nielson said. “He also started getting better at going to the teachers and other students and explaining that he’s autistic. It really changed how teachers and students reacted to him.”

His parents have championed him every step of the way, as they feel their role has been to be his advocate and go-between for him and the world. Their patience and help has paid off.

He’s had a talent for designing and engineering since a young age. When Michael was 5, Bruce Nielson remembers coming home from work one day to a display of working paper Star Wars figures - even a 3D Droideka that could roll up and move. As Michael aged, his inventions got even more complicated, often made from wood and tape.

“His inventions always had moving parts. We went through duct tape like there was no tomorrow,” Julene Nielson said.

His creative engineering has only continued as he’s grown. His two parakeets, tarantula, turtle and three hermit crabs all have elaborate habitats Michael invented and created from wood, rocks and soil he scavenged specifically for each pet.

He is currently writing a book, even planning an entire series based on his uniquely imagined heroes and villains and their parallel earth. So ingrained in the characters, he’s creating jewelry for each character as part of his classwork for his jewelry-making course at school. And of course, he shines every Halloween with his elaborate self-designed and hand-sewn costumes.

For his Boy Scout Eagle Project recently he turned things around, and collected cooking supplies for the kitchen area of Clear Horizons Academy in Orem. The Academy is a school focused specially on helping autistic children navigate schooling and life decisions. With some of his own “navigations” behind him, Michael feels like he has more of a place in the world around him.

“My motto is to improve and adapt,” he said.


Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldextra.com

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