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By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC

Last week, I featured Miss Minnesota 2013, Rebecca Yeh, who competes in the Miss America Pageant on September 15 in Atlantic City. Over the next year, she will be a spokesperson for Autism Speaks, the nation's leading autism science and advocacy organization.

Her 22-year-old, older brother Phil has an autism spectrum disorder. This week I feature him.

Said Yeh, “What I love about Phil is he's very honest, speaks from the heart, and isn't afraid to tell people what he thinks. Phil's a very transparent person. You see everything when he talks with you. I can really appreciate that because it's hard to be (completely) honest with people, to really just say exactly what is on your heart most of the time.”

Phil was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age four. In part, she said, he has had a great deal of difficulty socially interacting with others, which includes communicating ideas and understanding body language.

She said, “Again, as for his being honest, and from my experience with him, I don't believe he has ever lied about anything. He's also generous. For example, there was a family at our church whose home had burned down about a year ago. At the end of the (worship) service one Sunday, Phil took a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to the family. He doesn't make a lot of money. He gave what he had because he knew they needed it and there wasn't a question in his mind about it. After giving it, he came back to us and didn't say anything. That takes a lot of heart to do that sort of thing for someone.”

She said Phil has a strong, childlike faith and prays every night before going to bed. He often shares his faith with friends and family, especially in times when most people would doubt or question God, she said. She and her brother do argue at times, but tend to overlook minor faults for the bigger picture.

She advised parents of children newly diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder: “The first thing I learned from my parents was you can't blame your spouse or family for your child having autism. Also, you can play an important role in your child's life. Be sure to seek out services to help your child. Early intervention has been proven to be most important.”

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