Heart for helping: Teen with special needs organizes fundraisers

Donnie and Amanda Grigsby have never let their son’s autism be an excuse for not teaching him right and wrong or from instilling in him good values.

Although it can be challenging for children with autism to socialize and express their emotions appropriately, 14-year-old Thorne Grigsby has learned to channel his thoughts and feelings into helping others.

One way Thorne likes to help those in need is by collecting canned food. It’s something he’s done for about four years now, his mother said.

Whenever they get enough food collected, the family then donates it to a local food pantry or other organization.

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Thorne also collects change he finds laying around. He doesn’t save it up to purchase a new toy for himself, but like the food, wants to give it to other people who need it.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last week, Thorne witnessed the destruction by watching the morning news. It made him sad and fearful for the families who lost everything, he said.

He even saw video footage of a rescue, where a father was clinging to his son who had autism as they were airlifted out of floodwaters.

“I saw bad things happening,” Thorne said.

But he also saw stories of people coming together to help.

“I think of people as the best they can be,” he said. “The rest of the world is the best they can be right now.”

To be the best that he could be, Thorne decided he needed to donate the food he collects so the people in Texas would at least have something to eat.

With support from his parents and Seymour Middle School, he has started Thorne’s Food Drive to benefit those impacted by the hurricane.

“I’ve always wanted to be a donator,” Thorne said. “I would like to be able to donate blood, but when I’ve had my blood tested it gives me a woozy feeling and made me feel sick.”

He is hoping his teachers, classmates and people in the community will want to get involved by donating food too. Donations of canned goods and non-perishable food items may be made at Seymour Middle School through Sept. 29.

The Grigsby family will be taking the food to the National Guard Armory in Columbus. From there it will be flown to Texas, Donnie Grigsby said.

It might not seem like a big deal to some that Thorne has taken such an interest in helping others, but for his parents and teachers, it shows just how far the teen has come.

At a young age, Thorne tested at a non-verbal level of autism, meaning he spoke few if any words.

“When he was about three, we didn’t know that he couldn’t speak, that he was non-verbal,” Amanda Grigsby said. “He just stopped talking and would point and grunt at things.”

Being the “baby” of the family, Amanda said she didn’t think anything of Thorne’s lack of verbal communication skills. Not knowing their son had autism, the Grigsbys would force him to use words.

“If he wanted his cup, we would say ‘no, you’re not getting it until you say the word,'” she said. “He would get red in the face and angry, but if he wanted it, he would say cup. We’ve never allowed him to have special accommodations.”

After a while, Thorne just began to talk on his own, she added.

Now, he talks all the time, Amanda said.

He wasn’t officially diagnosed with autism until kindergarten.

“It’s a rare thing with autism to come out of it,” she said of Thorne acquiring speech. “But we’ve refused to let him use it as a crutch. We want him to be as strong and be challenged as much as he possibly can, because the world isn’t going to stop for him. The world is not going to bend for him. He’s going to have to learn to function in this world.”

The family has even renamed Thorne’s condition “awesomism.”

“We don’t call it autism because that sounds like a sickness,” Amanda said. “We call it awesomism because he is just way cooler than the rest of the planet.”

As a former U.S. Marine, Donnie Grigsby said he has always tried to raise his son to have compassion and a desire to help.

“To always think about others,” he said. “You treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education for Seymour Community School Corp., said she wasn’t surprised Thorne reached out to help.

“Last school year, Thorne worked really hard and some students want candy, some students want to earn things, toys, when they do a good job,” Ahlbrand said. “Thorne actually worked really hard following school rules, doing his work, having good behavior to earn canned food.”

For Thorne, donating and helping people feels right, he said. He’s also planning to help the middle school later this school year with it’s Pennies for Patients campaign, which benefits Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis and the school’s annual coat and clothing drive for the Jackson County Clothing Center.

With so many people being diagnosed with cancer, including children, Thorne said he was worried about those people because they need help too.

“It is the best day for me to donate,” Thorne said. “Because honestly, I have felt nothing but goodness in my heart since I saw the very first thing on both, kids with cancer and the people who lost everything in Texas. I felt concerned and just wanted to do something.”

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Thorne’s Food Drive for victims of Hurricane Harvey

To help support 14-year-old Thorne Grigsby’s food drive, donations of canned food and non-perishable food items may be dropped off during business hours at Seymour Middle School, 920 N. O’Brien St., through Sept. 29.

All donations will be taken to the National Guard Armory in Columbus. From there they will be flown to Texas and distributed to victims of the hurricane.