Former NFL player Joe Barksdale and his college sweetheart and now wife, Bri, are sharing their personal story after he was diagnosed with adult autism.
Joe says he could never really figure himself out until he watched a movie portraying a professional with autism. He and his wife had that "aha moment" that maybe he did, too.
Now during this National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, they're spreading the word about it.
Joe shares how he got the diagnosis.
"I was meeting with my therapist and talking to her about how I don't fit in with people. I don't always like being at social events because I always felt like I'm trying to be who I'm supposed to be, but one day, someone's going to figure out that I'm not. That was when she brought up the possibility of the autism diagnosis and how she works with other autistic clients and from there I was referred to a specialist and that's how I was diagnosed by the specialist," explains Joe.
He says it has helpful to get that diagnosis!
"It's very helpful - not just for the treatment, but also for the accommodations. I'm at the set of America's Got Talent right now, getting ready to help with the NFL players' choir with the singing and so forth. And knowing about the autism, that can help put myself in situations to be successful, in terms of not disrupting anything and also at the same time I'm able to prove to the world and hopefully try to take away from that stigma of people with autism only being able to do a limited number of things," says Joe.
He says it definitely impacted his high-profile career in the NFL, but he learned how to deal with it.
"Especially when you're talking about like your reactions to overstimulation and so forth and not being able to read facial expressions and not being socially adept. I would say it definitely was a barrier between myself and almost everybody in the world of football," states Joe.
His wife, Bri, is relieved that they got Joe's diagnosis for a number of reasons.
"If anything, like Joe mentioned, it helped explain some of the things that he was dealing with because obviously with no diagnosis, you're just trying to figure out why you don't like going to work or why you don't like working with people or maybe why being in large groups is so overwhelming. And so, the diagnosis really helped him better understand himself and then honestly feel comfortable with saying like, 'Hey, this is a lot for me,' because without it, I don't think he was comfortable enough to admit that because he just thought something was wrong with how he was handling the situation," says Bri.
Music has always helped Joe!
"Music has been a part of my life since I've been living. Whenever I was not able to explain how I was feeling, or what I was thinking, there was always a song. I've loved soul music since the first time I heard it and from there, I just branched out and listen to everything. That was one of the reasons I retired from the NFL to pursue a music career and I actually just won my first international music award last week," exclaims Joe.
The Grammys could be in his future, he laughingly adds.
"I'm just continuing to live life and trying to be positive. When you think about autism, you could think like, oh, you know, there's this guy. He seems cool," says Joe.
He's also working with the group, Autism Speaks.
"I think the most important thing is just to build awareness on it because as human beings, we tend to be afraid of the things that we don't know, things that we don't understand. So, the more of an understanding that people like me can help with because that's a two-person road, you know, the same way that I'm trying to help people understand me I'm also trying to understand people so that they open line of communication to help us out in the future," says Joe.
Joe lives in Austin now, after his time with the LA Chargers and has been teaming up with Autism Speaks, even helping them with their walk this year. He's also holding a special event in the community to offer back-to-school supplies.
For more information visit https://www.autismspeaks.org