Michael Forbes Wilcox Autism Background (short bio)

Michael Forbes Wilcox

Thyme Hill

Alford, Massachusetts 01266

A pdf version of this text appears here.

Michael Wilcox was born in 1946, resided in Stockbridge, Massachusetts until age 17, and attended public schools there. He was involved in many community activities, such as Little League, Boy Scouts, and his church youth group. During high school he played (what was then called) center halfback on the school’s championship soccer team.

Wilcox grew up in an era before the concept of “Special Education” and spent nearly six decades of his life unaware of his own autism. He made friends easily; though looking back now, with the knowledge and awareness acquired late in life, those friends tended to be younger or older, or people who were shunned by others (for example, foreign students and those whom we would now recognize as having developmental disabilities). One memorable example of an older friend was Norman Rockwell, for whom he modeled as a boy of 8, and stayed friends with for many years, often dropping in at his studio to watch the artist at work.

Wilcox excelled academically in the Stockbridge school system, though he did not successfully make the transition from high school to college; going through a rough patch for many years after completing high school, before finally settling down, getting married, and attending college at night. He received a BA in Economics at age 26 (free, finally, from the Vietnam-era draft!) and an MA in Economics at age 30.

After a decade-long and very successful career in (surprise!) what was then called “data processing” (now “IT”), Wilcox shifted gears and moved into the investment business, relocating to New York City, where he lived for a dozen years, rising through the ranks of several firms and ending up as a Principal at Morgan Stanley. He was a world-renowned quantitative investment analyst, and traveled the globe to market his research to clients in all of the major financial centers. His picture once appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, featured in an article about successful analysts.

Again, Wilcox made friends easily (if selectively) during his career. He was especially successful as a manager because of his ability to empathize with his employees, whom he fully supported at every turn, transforming them into productive and loyal employees. Many of these employees, looking back through the lens of autism, provided, in return, support in the form of performing many of the executive functions that were beyond his ability to handle, and covered up for some of his special needs and self-created accommodations. Getting along with his superiors was far more difficult, and he was not perceived as a “team player” — a failing which eventually put a cap on his corporate career. Wilcox then started his own consulting business, incorporated in 1992.

Wilcox began to suspect he might be autistic in early 2005, at the age of 58, after reading the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A few months later, he first learned about Asperger’s syndrome (AS), and began researching AS on the internet and by attending lectures and conferences. After about a year in denial, he self-diagnosed, and a year later, in 2007, he received a clinical diagnosis, at age 61.

Remarks on the Autism Commission

Michael Forbes Wilcox: Remarks on the Autism Commission Delivered at the Massachusetts State House for Autism Awareness Day, April 14, 2011

The remarks below are also contained in a pdf file here.

This is a link to the short bio that was used by the emcee to introduce me.

Michael Forbes Wilcox, speaking in the Massachusetts State House

Michael Forbes Wilcox

You’ve Got to Have A Dream!

If you don’t have a dream

How you gonna have a dream come true?

Words to live by, from the song “Happy Talk” in South Pacific.

I am delighted to be here today to represent the Massachusetts Special Commission Relative to Autism. Part of our job is to dream. The rest of it is just hard work. The Commission was created by the Legislature, and the 31 public Commissioners were all appointed by Governor Deval Patrick.

The Commission is charged with reviewing all services offered to autistic individuals living in the Commonwealth that are provided, regulated, or funded by state agencies. The Commission will produce a report to the Governor and the Legislature, in September, which will summarize its findings and make recommendations for improvements. Some of these changes may be possible to implement by Executive Order, others may require legislation.

The Commission is relying on four subcommittees to do research on specific topics. The membership of these subcommittees is drawn from the wider autism community, and reflects the diverse interests of this broad community. In the same way that the Commission is composed, members of the subcommittees represent autistic individuals, parents, family members, educators, legislators, state agencies, clinicians, and other advocates.

The subcommittees are working groups that will meet and work together to produce reports on their respective areas of focus. They will deliver these reports to the Commission for review and possible inclusion in the Commission’s final report.

The four subcommittees are focused on four different age groups, including the period of transition from school to adulthood:

  • Birth through age 5
  • School Age
  • Transition
  • Adult

Meetings of both the Commission and the Subcommittees are open to the public, and you are encouraged to attend.

We have an expression in the self-advocacy community; “Nothing about us without us!” I was eager to be a member of this Commission because I wanted to add the perspective, and the voice, of an autistic person. I want to do whatever I can, both on the Commission, and as part of my autism self-advocacy in general, to make life just a little bit easier for those who come after me than it has been for me. This is the same dream that I believe all the members of the Commission and the Subcommittees share: to make this Commonwealth a better place to live, for autistic individuals, and therefore for all of us, and for everyone who lives in our community.

The variety of organizations represented both on the Commission and here in this room today is evidence of how we all recognize that we are all in this together. Autism comes in a variety of flavors. In fact, there are so many forms of autism that it may not be obvious to that proverbial anthropologist from Mars just exactly what it is that we all have in common.

Some of us, like Elizabeth and me, will be able to stand up in a room in the State House and tell you what it’s like to live as a stranger in a strange land. Others of us will never be able to do this.

Yet, the neurology of our condition is such that there is much that joins autistics in common cause. What we share is more important than what makes us different from each other.

We all suffer (and I use that word advisedly) from sensory overload issues. We all face enormous challenges when it comes time for transitions, whether it be in moving from one part of the day to the next, or in moving on to the next phase of our lives. We all share the frustrations of living in an alien world, as we try to achieve our own aspirations, whether those aspirations involve simply getting from one end of the day to the other, or in achieving some cherished life goal.

We all take pride where we can find pride. We all endure suffering when we must. We all struggle as best we can. We all rejoice over our accomplishments, both big and small. We are all unique. There is no way to compare the subjective experience of one person with that of another.

I thank you all for being here today to support me and to support the dream and the work of the Commission. I want nothing more, and nothing less, than to see that future generations of autistic individuals do not have to endure quite as much agony as I did in my time. I had to learn, through trial and error, how to get by in this incomprehensible world. We can, and we MUST do a better job of providing support for autistic people and to those who care for them.

Again, thank you for being here, to share in this dream. Because,

You’ve Got to Have A Dream!

If you don’t have a dream

How you gonna have a dream come true?