Disabled Montana man starts autism non-profit - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Disabled Montana man starts autism non-profit

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Marcus Morris demonstrates the virtual community helping autistic people learn social cues, job training, and other life skills Marcus Morris demonstrates the virtual community helping autistic people learn social cues, job training, and other life skills
Marcus Morris founded the non-profit Guardian Spirit to help people struggling with autism. More at guardianspirit.info Marcus Morris founded the non-profit Guardian Spirit to help people struggling with autism. More at guardianspirit.info

The CDC reports 1 in 68 children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. One Billings man is using his disability experience to build a non-profit and a community for those struggling with autism. 

For Marcus Morris, 37,  autism is a daily battle.

"When we appear at our most normal for you, you have to imagine how many different coping mechanisms we are actually using," Morris said. "It's work for us to fit in, it doesn't come naturally."

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is classified by the CDC as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. 

As a child, Morris said his disability interfered with him having a permanent home and he was adopted and returned several times, changing families and institutions 

"I used to have the hardest time even making eye contact," Morris said. "We internalize criticism and take feedback too personal."

Morris is a different man today though. Proudly praising his wife of 14 years, Michelle, and his two children, Morris also tells KULR-8 about the computer program that has helped him find social success, and his goals to help others do that same. 

Morris said he was able to develop social skills through an online game called Second Life. The virtual community allows people with autism to learn social cues, job training, and life skills through their avatar and by interacting with other users of the program. 

"It's a virtual recreation of the real world that lets you live the life you would prefer to be living," Morris said, "the key is that it's completely peer-to-peer support-based, so there are sponsors like Alcoholics Anonymous where you're able to start building healthy relationships in a virtual setting."

Morris wanted to share this virtual resource with others, but he didn't stop there. After seeking business help from Steve Zabawa of Rimrock Auto-Group, Morris decided to start a non-profit for autistic people. 

"Help should be free," Morris said.

The 37-year-old is using his disability benefits to fund the organization, a non-profit that will not provide any income or other funds for Morris. Morris said Zabawa also generously contributed to the cause.

"I want to help families to get help for their family members," Morris said. 

Morris said he chose the name 'Guardian Spirit' for the non-profit because he hopes the organization helps guide those with autism while also staying out of the way of their success. 

The logo for Guardian Spirit is a computer mouse surrounded by angel wings to incorporate the virtual community aspect of the autism support. 

Morris said his organization has already helped three autistic people acquire and maintain jobs, including 33-year-old Reneé Talbot. Morris said Talbot moved from Colorado to Billings 4 years ago to receive help from Guardian Spirit, but got a lot more than that. 

"She's part of the family now," Morris said.

After helping Talbot learn responsibility and maintain a job, the Morris family built an addition to their home and invited Talbot to move in, where she now lives with the family of four. 

Morris hopes to continue helping more autistic people learn to take care of themselves as adults and function in society. 

"It's been a blessing to have my life experience raising special needs kids," Morris adds.

We'll continue to keep you updated on the developing non-profit and upcoming events on KULR-8 and kulr8.com

For more on Guardian Spirit and getting involved, you can visit https://guardianspirit.info/

Morris also invites emails to marcus.morris@guardianspirit.info, and calls to 406-698-1679, requesting texts after 6 p.m. MST so as not to wake his wife and children. 

"If we want to build a real sense of community, we need to bring everyone in."

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