Local Poet's Struggle with Autism

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COLD SPRINGS, Nev. -- A local author wrote a book about his struggles with autism and is now working on finishing his second one. Twenty-two-year-old Russell Lehmann copes with challenges not many people will ever face.

Perseverance and support from his family helped Russell overcome some of the most difficult times in his life. While most kids don't have to worry about making friends or even going to school every day, for Russell, it was a daily struggle.

"I had agoraphobia and I couldn't leave the house. I had major separation anxiety from my mom, couldn't leave her side. We didn't know what was going on," he said. "At this point my obsessive compulsive disorder was very high, it took over my life."

When his condition worsened, he had to leave his friends and school behind until he was properly diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

Because of the lack of tools and medical aid at the time, his parents felt helpless. The noticed his withdrawal from his peers.

"It was very frustrating. We weren't sure what was wrong," Helm Lehmann, Russell's father said. "We were helpless because we couldn't pull him out of it as much as we tried, but we didn't have tools or medication for someone who was this ill."

As he me some progress, he still felt far from normal. He began playing varsity football at North Valley's High School for two years, but the social anxiety began to feel all too familiar.

Frustrated that he couldn't articulate his feelings out loud, he took pen to paper and wrote them in his book.

His book of poems describes his loneliness as he lost contact with his friends and was too afraid to make new ones. He became unresponsive and depressed, which sent him straight to rock bottom.

"There were three months where I stopped working out, I stopped eating, lost about 15 lbs, my obsessive compulsive disorder was ramped up, I took about two or three showers in a three month span...that was the hardest part of my life," Russell said. "There were so many times in my deep depression when I wanted to end it all, but I couldn't let myself down, I couldn't let my family down

To bring himself out of the darkness, he began doing what he knows best, write. His hope was to bring others a better understanding of Autistic people's unique world.

"Autism builds a heck of a lot of strength, mental strength, character. It helps you become understanding of people in general and how everyone's different," he said.

Gretchen and Helm Lehmann, Russell's parents, want parents with autistic children to know there are resources available, but you have to fight for them.

They say some signs that your child might have autism if they are withdrawn and become extremely obsessive-compulsive.

Russell's new book details the months he fell into the depression and is set to come out later this year.