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A Brief But Spectacular take on adapting to new challenges while living with autism


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Pierce and Melissa McKay are a mother and son living in Brentwood, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville.

When the COVID pandemic began, the McKays found themselves without the vital school and community resources needed to navigate life for Pierce as an autistic adult.

Tonight, they share their Brief But Spectacular take on adapting to new challenges while living with autism.

Pierce McKay, Son of Melissa McKay: My name is Pierce McKay. And I'm 24 years old, and I'm autistic.

Melissa McKay, Mother of Pierce McKay: When Pierce was diagnosed with autism, it was good to finally have a diagnosis.

And then, at the same time, you have this idea of what they're going to be like when they grow up. And it changed a lot with that diagnosis.

When Pierce was younger, there was still a lot of misconceptions. One is that they're not social. Pierce a very social person. He loves being with people. We knew that Pierce's autism was a little more serious than we at first thought when he went missing one day when he was 12 years old. He was on his bike riding laps around the house. And then I walked outside and saw that he was just gone.

We had to call 911. Eventually, he was found riding his bike on I-65.

It's OK. Were you thinking about being on your bike?

He'd never wandered away from the house before. So it was -- it was terrifying.

In 2020, Pierce was finishing the transition program at Brentwood High School, working on life skills, and had gotten him into a job.

Pierce McKay: I cleaned the tables in Williamson Medical Center.

Melissa McKay: What other jobs did you do when you were at Brentwood High School?

Pierce McKay: I worked at PetSmart.

Melissa McKay: And where else did you work?

Pierce McKay: I worked at T.J. Maxx. I worked on shoes. I worked on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Melissa McKay: What do you do with the shoes?

Pierce McKay: In bins.

Melissa McKay: Do you sort them?

Pierce McKay: Yes, sort. Yes, sort them.

Melissa McKay: March of 2020 rolled around, and schools shut down. And he had to quit his job. So, suddenly, he has nowhere to go, nothing to do all day. He's sitting at home. His routine is completely interrupted.

And we didn't know how to find him a job without that school resource. And so we looked into government programs, and they were suffering from the pandemic too.

I haven't heard a lot of coverage for families that have people with disabilities and how they were affected by the pandemic. I know that we aren't alone. I know that there were so many other families that were impacted in ways that the general public were not. I hope that Pierce is able to stay in a steady job and be able to live in maybe a group situation with some roommates.

It would be great if he was able to gain a little more independence.

My name is Melissa McKay.

Pierce McKay: And my name is Pierce McKay.

Melissa McKay: And this is our...

Pierce McKay and Melissa McKay: ... Brief But Spectacular take on living with autism.

Judy Woodruff: Wow.

Pierce McKay, we are so proud of you and proud of your mom, Melissa. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story with us. And we hope we all learn lessons from what happened.

And we can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at

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