At first, it seemed like a curse.
Santa Clarita resident Tom Iland, then age 13, found out he was “socially a little different” than the other kids.
“I was diagnosed with autism by my aunt, who was the autism specialist for the whole state of Illinois,” he said.
The idea had been up for debate for years, because at the time, Iland seemed “too smart” to have autism, various doctors said.
But when he finally spoke up and asked his parents why their home telephone rang off the hook for his brother and sister, but not him, he found answers that took him a long time to accept.
“I thought life as I had known it was over,” he said. “But I learned over time that my diagnosis is not my destiny.”
Now 35, Iland learned to understand his own weaknesses and strengths over time. And now, years later, he is in the process of starting a business as a life coach and has been an outspoken advocate for the community with autism.
“I don’t like that word, ‘autistic,’” he said. “I’ve been trying to push for more ‘person-first’ language that doesn’t dehumanize people with autism. I’m not ‘autistic.’
“My name is Tom, and I am a certified accountant, author, motivational speaker, son and an individual who just happens to have autism,” he said.
Iland and his mother, Emily, have traveled around the region together promoting awareness about those with developmental disabilities, showing they can also hold jobs and explaining their merits.
“One of the biggest things plaguing the community is that 90 percent of people with autism don’t have jobs,” Iland said. “Many have a great eye for detail, are loyal, have great memories and other great qualities that make them very employable. I’ve spoken to NBC Universal, College of the Canyons, other places that want presentations on how to fix their perceptions of the community with autism.”
Iland sits on the Santa Clarita Valley Mayor’s Committee for Employment of Individuals with Disabilities and uses his network to connect with businesses looking to hire such people.
His certification in accounting also expires at the end of 2019, and Iland plans to go full time into life coaching.
He even wrote a book, “Come to Life!” in less than a year and a half in July 2017. It is now available on Amazon and explains how to help those with autism and learning differences shape their futures.
Iland is a huge advocate for self reflection, and his mantra is: “Know yourself, love yourself, and then be yourself.”
The book’s themes can also be found on his YouTube channel videos and on writings on his website, thomasiland.com.
Autism, along with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, seizure disorders and more, may inhibit people from getting successful jobs, but Iland wanted to change that.
“Often, what makes people shine and makes them sing is up to yourself,” he said. “It’s up to you to come to life, not life come to you, and I want to help everyone, regardless of if they have a disability, come to that understanding too if they read the book.”