“Where do you go to church?”
That’s the first question Andrew Butler asked me when we met to talk about this article. It didn’t really catch me off guard, because I had already heard that he knows the names of all 89 churches in Wayne County (yes, he told me how many there are…I had no idea!) He also knows the names of many of the members and attendees of each church, and many of those people know Andrew as well.
When I told Andrew where I attend church, he told me who my pastor is, and who the pastor was before that. We then discussed his favorite hymns, and how different churches worship in different ways. “They clap a lot at your church,” he said, which is an accurate statement, as I attend the Collinwood Church of God. “When the pastor says ‘Come on,’ that’s when you really clap!” Andrew said. And once again, he knew exactly what he was talking about!
Andrew is a 28-year-old Waynesboro resident, the son of Jamie and Lisa Butler. He is a very handsome young man, with a head full of thick black hair, and piercing blue eyes like his mother’s. Jamie, an independent sales rep for an appliance company, and Lisa, a Registered Nurse at Wayne Medical Center, have devoted the last 28 years of their lives to their only child, Andrew. But they are not the kind of people who feel that they deserve a lot of praise for the sacrifices they have made for their son. They are quick to tell you that God has helped them in many ways, such as being able to work on a schedule that allows one of them to be with Andrew at all times.
Jamie says that up until the time Andrew was around two years old, he was perfectly normal in every way. Then, they began to notice that Andrew was regressing in his developmental abilities. Lisa says that he became less verbal, and would not make eye contact, among other symptoms.
As we are all aware, autism is a condition that not much is really known about today, and even less was known 26 years ago. Jamie and Lisa took Andrew to doctors all over the country, and did hours upon hours of research on their own. Andrew was formally diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. But having a formal diagnosis certainly wasn’t a “magical solution.” Everyone offered different opinions on treatment, but no one had a cure. “We just got to the point where we were so tired of all the doctors saying what ‘might help’ or what we ‘may want to try’,” said Jamie. The Butlers knew that Andrew, being the smart and sweet boy that he is, had been given to them for a reason, and they have never wavered in their love and acceptance of him.
The Butlers say that they first noticed Andrew’s astounding ability with numbers when he was just a small child. To everyone’s amazement, he memorized all the license plate numbers of family, friends, and neighbors. He then went on to become an avid reader of the telephone book, and could actually remember the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone in Wayne County. Lisa recalled a time when she and Andrew were in line at a local grocery store. The gentleman in line in front of them did not have his telephone number on the check he was writing for his groceries, and when the cashier asked for the number, Andrew went into action! He asked the man his name, and when he told him, Andrew proceeded to tell the man both his telephone number and address. “We didn’t know the man personally,” Lisa said, “and he did seem a little taken aback that this child seemed to know an awful lot about him!”
“He loves to talk,” Jamie said. “And even if you don’t really want to talk back, that doesn’t stop him from talking to you,” Lisa added.
Andrew’s love of numbers is probably what is behind his favorite choice of a TV show, which is “The Price is Right.” We agreed upon the fact that Bob Barker was a better host than Drew Carey, but Andrew watches both old reruns and new episodes of the show, and knows all of the games that have ever been played. He told me the names of all the old western television shows he likes, and he is also a big fan of the show “Cops.” My awe of Andrew was just getting greater and greater as he told me more.
Andrew then went on to tell me the names of all 45 Presidents of the United States, in numerical order (of course), many of whom I admitted that I had forgotten ever existed. I think it is a given that most people, especially those of us who are of an “advanced age” (over 40!) would do well to name maybe the first two or three presidents and the last four or five. It’s not that we weren’t taught them in school, it’s just our lack of an ability to remember that type of thing, an ability that Andrew possesses in spades.
Andrew loves to play the piano, especially hymns. He said that he has been very disappointed that he hasn’t been able to go play piano for his grandfather, Mr. Ellis Butler, at the assisted living facility during the coronavirus pandemic. He is looking forward to the pandemic being over, as are we all, and can’t wait for things to go back to normal.
The true cause of autism is something that has been debated ever since autism was discovered, and no one has that answer yet. Childhood vaccinations are something that everyone has heard could be the cause, and the debate of whether or not to get your child vaccinated is ongoing. Lisa says that Andrew’s symptoms didn’t begin until after he received the MMR vaccine, but she and Jamie, along with the doctors, don’t truly know what causes autism, and therefore, she would never advise anyone not to vaccinate their children.
In the short time that I spoke to Andrew, I realized that this is someone that I truly want to continue to be friends with. He is not only knowledgeable, smart, and a great source of information; he is someone that you immediately develop a connection with, because he truly wants to know and remember everything about you. And whether it’s because he is autistic, or because it’s just the person he is, Andrew is the type who doesn’t care about all the drama that is a part of most people’s lives. He focuses on the facts and the most important stuff. We could all learn a lesson from Andrew, and the next time I meet someone new, my first question might just be, “Where do you go to church?”
By Emma McWilliams