At Age Five, He Couldn't Speak

Devon Nelson, born severely autistic and unable to speak until after the age of five, is off to college and working to encourage his peers to reach for their dreams.

Devon Nelson, born severely autistic and unable to speak until after the age of five, is off to college and working to encourage his peers to reach for their dreams.

“Kids can be cruel about what they don't understand

and at times I was tormented for it.”

In 2006 it wasn’t clear if Devon Nelson would be able to attend school. Five years old and unable to verbally communicate, Devon, born with severe autism, struggled with day-to-day function.

Frustrated with the medical community, his mother turned to holistic and nutritional treatments. In a seemingly impossible turn of events, Devon began showing drastic signs of development in short time.

Through the perseverance of his family, Devon traveled a long road of struggle and challenges. He endured bullies, found his passions and didn’t just graduate high school - he is off to college with on a grant.

Passionate about music, Devon writes songs that challenge traditional perceptions and pushes back against stereotypes surrounding his condition.

“I never thought I would get into college... I have Autism and in the early stages of my diagnosis I was severe on the spectrum. My mom quit her job to commit to my therapy and by first grade I started responding to treatment.

Eventually I was mainstreamed into a regular classroom in sixth grade without an IEP or Individualized Education Program. This was a huge accomplishment for me but I would face new challenges in a classroom with my peers.

Kids can be cruel about what they don't understand and at times I was tormented for it. Learning to accept myself despite what others thought or said was a lesson I will never forget.

I am weird. Weird for technology! I embrace the fact that my Autism allows me to hyper focus on something of interest. It gives me an edge and I want to use that to pursue a career in game design at the University of Advancing Technology in Arizona.

I hope to inspire other teens on the spectrum to pursue their passion and tell the world we have something special to offer given the opportunity. I can think of no better way to say thank you to my family for all the love, support, and sacrifice than to earn my degree.”

Read Devon’s nomination story below, through the voice of his nominator and dedicated grandmother.

Devon, with his parents, Chad and Becky Nelson

Devon, with his parents, Chad and Becky Nelson

Learn more about the Hero Of The Year Initiative

Hero's Name: Devon Nelson

Hero's City of Residence: Phoenix

Hero's State of Residence: Arizona

Eligible Categories:: Child Facing Adversity

Please describe what makes this individual a TRUE hero:: Born with Autism, Devon was non verbal until age 5. He struggled to meet any of his childhood markers. His mom was distraught, autism was barely known in society. Devon met a doctor who warned against drugs.

He used natural remedies and soon Devon began talking and started school with his peers. Life was hard. There were all those years without even one friend.

Devon fought back and is graduating high school with A’s and B’s, a few good friends, a job, prom and college on the horizon. He vocalized his anger and depression from loneliness in music and has got up on stage in front of a big crowd to share his songs and face his fears. Devon is my Hero. He has shown me what it takes to rise above

Please describe how this individual has impacted the lives and community around them:: At almost 18 Devon has reached the heart and lives of many. Showing us all what real struggles are about.

There is no doubt this kid will be a shining star in this world. He is the inspiration to my studies at ASU to broaden the awareness of social interactions early on in school systems.

Nominated by: Lynne Brown

James Polinori