Autistic student broke through stereotype, redefined bullying one act at a time

Beating+his+drum%2C+junior+Hunter+Paxson+marches+down+the+street+with+fellow+band+members+during+a+morning+practice.+Paxson+was+involved+in+many+activities+for+his+month+at+David+City+High+School%2C+including+football%2C+band%2C+choir%2C+FCCLA+and+FFA.

Nicole Buntgen

Beating his drum, junior Hunter Paxson marches down the street with fellow band members during a morning practice. Paxson was involved in many activities for his month at David City High School, including football, band, choir, FCCLA and FFA.

Nicole Buntgen, Co-Editor

Being a new student can be pretty scary. Between a new school, a new town, and a new place to call home, there’s a lot to adapt to in a short amount of time. Walking into a new school shy and reserved can get you off to a slow start, and previously being bullied for being autistic isn’t an easy feat to overcome. But when your confidence is soaring and you’re immediately outgoing, how can anything go wrong?

Junior Hunter Paxson knows a thing or two about being sociable. Coming all the way from Edgewood-Colesburg Junior-Senior High School in Iowa, Paxson made himself at home at David City High School about a month ago.

“It’s different because you have to learn to adapt to the new surroundings. I wasn’t really nervous because I’ve learned to be myself, and if people like that, then they can be friends with me. And if not, that’s fine too,” Paxson said. “I’ve learned to accept myself, [which has been] a big thing I’ve learned to do over the years.”

About a month into his new school year, Paxson was already involved in multiple extracurriculars. These activities included football, band, choir, FCCLA and FFA. Paxson was also planning on joining the One-Act and speech teams.

“I like David City. There’s a lot of things to do here in and outside the school,” Paxson said. “I like smaller schools because you get more of an opportunity to grow in the programs.”

Staying actively involved in extracurriculars has helped Paxson grow into the person he is today.

Paxson was diagnosed with autism when he was in the fourth grade. Autism is a genetic mutation in the brain in which certain behaviors, such as social interaction in his case, are altered. Paxson describes the disability as “everything moving in slow motion”, as he sometimes struggles to comprehend things in the moment or even at all.

“I didn’t really understand it at first. I always knew I was different, but I didn’t really know how to label it until [fourth grade],” Paxson said. “When I found a label, it made me [feel] better about it. I know it’s not something wrong with me, it’s something in my genes.”

Autism for Paxson makes it more difficult to process things, and it takes him a bit longer to react, he said.

Hunter is an extremely nice young man,” Edgewood-Colesburg Junior-Senior High School Principal Dawn Voss said. “He is very passionate about his own learning, autism, and family. No matter what Hunter chooses to do in life, he will most definitely succeed because he is very driven, very outspoken and asks for what he thinks he needs. His personality certainly is a benefit in getting his word heard about his passionsautism happens to be one of them. Hunter is a very high functioning autistic young man who has a big heart and wants what every other person in life wantsto be loved, healthy and happy.  I hope he finds that at his new school.”

Being involved in speech at his old school, Paxson said speech has helped him communicate to people about his autism in more ways than he imagined.

“I felt I could express myself and have people understand me for the first time. It’s hard to describe to someone what autism is truly like,” Paxson said. “When I was able to speak in front of people, I could feel them almost relate to me. It made me feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.”

The successful speech traveled past districts and to an event called All-State held in Iowa. According to Paxson, All-State consisted of close to 600 students competing with their speeches. Paxson also said the event is similar to what we could call State Speech, hosted by the Nebraska Schools Activities Association (NSAA).

One of Paxson’s judges ended up being a local news anchor for the Des Moines area. The anchor later mentioned Paxson’s personal story on their network. Due to the success Paxson had already gained from his speech, Paxson decided to post a video of him delivering the speech to Facebook and Youtube. The speech received a great deal of recognition from many autism societies, and quickly gathered thousands of views on social media.

To Paxson, bullying and autism go hand-in-hand, as he is very passionate about the topics due to the incidents that have affected him since elementary school.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of; I’m honestly proud to be autistic because it makes me who I am,” Paxson said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without some of the struggles I’ve had to go through. I think I have autism for a reason: to help other people with autism find their way in life.”

Helping others is exactly what he did. After years of enduring harsh words and hateful comments, Paxson was sick of going through the pain of being a victim of bullying. Paxson decided to flip the switch on bullies and start an anti-bullying campaign at his old school.

The “Midwest Friends against Bullying” crusade rapidly spread across Iowa and various other states nearby. The program consisted of seventh through twelfth grade students ready to take a stand against bullying. The campaign received a great deal of recognition from various people including the Governor of Iowa, numerous news sources, and even the cast of A&E’s reality show, Duck Dynasty.

Because of Paxson’s courageous acts, Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad pushed for three years to pass an anti-bullying law in the name of Edgewood-Colesburg. Unfortunately, due to fundamental disagreements amongst members the Legislature, no law was passed.

“The Governor looked for every way he could for years to attempt for the law to be passed. We still look for ways to continue to make sure schools are safe,” Communication Director for the Governor of Iowa Ben Hammes said.

The cast of Duck Dynasty also got involved, participating in one of the themes during anti-bullying week and submitting their pictures on social media. A picture of the cast taking part in the event was even sent to Paxson and currently hangs in the halls of Edgewood-Colesburg.

“I wanted to do something to show people that I’m not going to sit down and take bullying anymore. I’m going to stand up and fight against it,” Paxson said. “There was quite a number of kids who were sick of it and didn’t have an outlet, and as soon as I did this, they finally did.”

“Midwest Friends against Bullying” collected close to 50 students, being the second largest organization in their school. Paxson said the group incorporated many events with their community and the group even received over $700 in donations.

“It’s really amazing how much the community grasped onto [anti-bullying] and welcomed our group. I’m hoping it can be like that here, too,” Paxson said.

Passionate for his campaign, Paxson planned on carrying the club onto DCHS, as he felt bullying is a norm that occurs in every school.

“It’s sad to say what [bullying] does; there needs to be a solution to it,” Paxson said. “It never feels good to be a victim or a bully. We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being the target.”

Between starting a campaign that blossomed at his old school, gaining local fame across Iowa, and quickly finding himself at his new school, Paxson had quite a few accomplishments as the new student at DCHS. Suffering as the victim of bullying for years, Paxson finally took a stand for what he believes in. Autism has taught Paxson that just because he has a disability, it doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of accomplishing anything he sets his mind to. And that’s exactly what he did.

Unfortunately, Paxson’s adventure at DCHS was cut short as he moved to Blair, Nebraska, on Oct. 4. Regardless of where Paxson’s journey continues, he’s still going to leave his print wherever life takes him.

“I’ve learned to conquer autism and I’ve been so happy with myself,” Paxson said. “Even in the worst, I’ve made my own good. I’m not letting others rule my fate.”