Community Conversations: An Interview with Merrick Egber from the Els for Autism Foundation
I have known Merrick for more than 5 years, since I began working alongside him on the Els for Autism Advisory Board. Currently, he is a member of two boards, APSE and our Els for Autism Advisory Board, and he is also busy working as an administrative assistant for the Els Center, helping all departments in their work.
He is a man of integrity and many great accomplishments — and he has demonstrated amazing leadership on every level at the Els Center. This includes his being an important advocate for people with autism — and the way he has shared his own story so openly. Merrick’s podcast with the Els Center, called “Fore!”(https://www.elsforautism.org/fore-autism-podcast/), which involves riveting interviews with members of the global autism community — including advocates, authors, doctors, leaders, researchers, and teachers — , also inspired the way I structured interviews on my own website (like this one).
Merrick’s honesty is influential, and his candor deeply inspired me to discuss my own experiences with autism more publicly over the years following his example. He is also a leader because he helps individuals and families affected by autism get connected to the resources they need to survive and thrive.
Merrick Egber started working with the Els for Autism Foundation just a few months before the ribbon cutting of the Els Center of Excellence in 2014. He earned his B.A. in Communication Studies from Florida Atlantic University, with specialized classes on group facilitation, management, and organizing.
Merrick is a published author who has written numerous works of poetry and song lyrics that are on Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/Merrick-Egber/e/B00F53UTQC) and Lulu.com (https://www.lulu.com/search?contributor=Merrick+Egber&adult_audience_rating=00). You can also find and listen to recordings of his original songs on his official website, MerrickEgber.com.
His record of community service and outreach is impeccable, and through the Els Foundation community he has created and chaired many social groups for people with autism to get together, including the Adult Connections Club, Recreation Programs, and a Mental Health Support Group (here is the link to the Els Center’s social and recreation programs: https://www.elsforautism.org/programs-services/adult-services/social-and-recreation/).
There is no doubt that his efforts have improved the lives of many people, including my own. It is my honor and pleasure and privilege to introduce him, someone whom I am proud to call a friend. I hope you enjoy this conversation, because I am sure you will like him just as much as I do. Without any further delay, here is our interview.
Once again, here is the link to his official website: www.MerrickEgber.com
Fore! Podcast: https://www.elsforautism.org/fore-autism-podcast/
You are a musician, lyricist, author, and songwriter. You said that Bob Dylan has influenced you. How does he inspire you?
When I was very, very young my father and mother influenced my musical tastes. My mother was more into the top 40 – Pop songs of her era i.e. The Beach Boys and The Mersey Beat Scene of the 1960s and my father was more into the intersection between Folk and Country and Rock Music i.e. Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash. I remember being in a car with my father and he introduced me to Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream off of Blonde on Blonde, his first double album, and I paid attention to the lyrics for the first time not only because of his take being interrupted by laughter but his voice, a kind of sardonic 60s voice, made it easier to digest the crazy images he was putting in my head. As I started writing my own lyrics, when trying to pick up a hobby, some of what I’ve written has been influenced by works like ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’ where I imagine that I am writing a song to the tune of it but everything comes out different, obviously.
In terms of seminal figures it was Bob Dylan who intellectualized Rock music, especially when he went electric in 1965. Every band and group, almost marshaled by his influence, started writing things that were miles away from the old sockhop and dance standards of the late 50s and early 60s to appeal, almost past, the teenage generation that grew up with this music. While it can be credited that The Beatles saved Rock music, it was Bob Dylan who breathed new life into it and Mr. Dylan who might be the most responsible for it surviving for so long. Remember that Dylan’s turn came after The Beatles made it big in America, perhaps if The Beatles didn’t exist than Mr. Dylan wouldn’t have made his turn, but perhaps if The Beatles didn’t exist, Bob Dylan would’ve picked up the slack.
Do you like musicals – movies, TV shows, Broadway, etc.? IF so, what are your favorites? Have you ever written screenplays or sketches or scripts based on your poetry and songs?
Great question. My mother has always been into musicals and, almost by accident, I do have a background in the dramatic arts. Whenever we would go into New York City, as a family, we would attempt to catch a Broadway Show. I would also catch a few shows here and there at local theaters, and have watched many, many cinematic musicals especially as I try to keep up with the Oscars, many of the movies that won Best Picture in the past have been musicals – many of which make up my 33 movies that won Best Picture that I haven’t seen. Lately, influenced by my father I’ve taken to being intrigued by the Opera scene. I really did enjoy watching Carmen.
My favorite movie musical is The Sound of Music, everything about it has a kind of timeless feeling about it and the songs used are timeless to. Yet, the most watched musical for me was The King and I, the Animated Movie, the Broadway Musical, a Local Theater Production, the Live Action Movie I had seen every version of it. I really do like ‘Whistle a Happy Tune’, forgive me if that is not the title of it. I also have enjoyed watching docudramas of musicians and singers like ‘Rocket Man’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
I’ve never had the patience nor the discipline to write anything deeper related to an already written product of mine.
How do you feel when you are on stage? Have you ever tried acting/improv/theater?
I was in Chorus Classes for years, and I would participate in many different musicals and plays. I don’t have stage fright much but it is really about memorizing the lines that can be very difficult. When my parents were visiting Memphis, Tennessee I was in a production of ‘Anything Goes!’, I usually would play paternal characters though I still am not a father – it maybe had more to do with my maturity level which is usually a mistake on the person who sees me. For two years I was in productions put on by Camp Ballibay in the New Jersey area, went around my county for a production of ‘Into The Woods’ for my high school for Drama Class, and did ‘The Glass Menagerie’ twice, once in college. I’ve never did improv but I do it constantly on the Podcast I co-host for the Els for Autism Foundation and I have improvised speeches of mine in the past for the Foundation too.
How does writing affect you? What kind of advice can you give to people who want to publish their own works?
It makes me proud to write something that makes me feel good about the work. It also allows me to express myself. To learn that what I can do can not only impact the world but also allow me a living if done properly is significant to me.
I would ask from what vantage point do you feel like you would be successful at and for what is the best way to express yourself. I would also look around your connections to see if anybody can give you a leg up. Finally, even if Random House is too far away for you, there are systems in place to self-publish, I believe that The Martian, which was made into a film, was self-published through Amazon’s service. I would also say that if you want to make a living off of it, it may be best to see how far your patience and discipline reaches but also to think about undersaturated markets.
Think like an inventor – what do people need that isn’t provided to them already and create a market for that.
Who is your favorite musician? Who is your favorite actor/actress? What about comedians? Who’s your favorite and why? What makes you laugh?
My favorite musician is usually John Lennon. He has been my musical hero for years, one of my old AOL Screennames was made as a tribute to him, he also is one of those musicians of such importance that he didn’t pass away in a plane crash or a drug overdose but was actually assassinated with so many years left to ponder and to write about. He was the key lead in The Beatles for years, and was my favorite, and seemed to write songs that were relatable. Yes, he had utopian ideals but he was the point person for the 60s as a decade, even if he really didn’t get political until The Beatles started unraveling.
My favorite actor, growing up, was probably Jimmy Stewart. He would typically play people of honor and conviction, supposedly that famous voice of his was invented by himself to. Whatever he did he would always bring his best to whatever performance he had.
I loved The Marx Brothers, they have half-influenced my comic personality. They are a little like The Three Stooges, their closest competitors, but they are also, in a way, more cerebral to. I like humor that can be a little bit outrageous but is also freewheeling. I don’t typically laugh when I watch a comedy, but there have been moments where the right thing happens and it amuses me to no end! If anyone can’t make me laugh, I can to myself!
Who do you look up to? Who motivates you? What drives you? How do you define success? What are your ambitions for the future?
Well, I look up to many. My parents first of all, I have a close relationship with them even if they can be pretty intense sometimes. My mother is kind of a role model for other women and my father is a dreamer and even if we weren’t related – a good friend. They motivate me and drive me to places I would’ve never thought possible.
I would also say that my friends motivate me to. They can help me when I need it, and can offer suggestions and advice when needed to. While I appreciate success stories of others, it can be clear that that can only do so much, unless they are of a proper age range, female and single than that’s a different story.
I define success as being happy with who you are, what you are, and finding it tolerable to live day by day without worries or regrets. It is knowing that a moment of being idle isn’t going to harm others, that you can take a break, and that progression is happening somewhere. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Fulfillment is a key component of success. If I had to, it would be transforming my current job role, becoming a songwriter for others, upgrading my rental, finding love and happiness (isn’t that an Al Green song?)
You are a pillar of the South Florida autism community. How did you get involved with the Els Center for Autism, and what projects/initiatives/endeavors/clubs/etc. have you been a part of or created since you started working there? What accomplishments give you the most satisfaction?
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a pillar, it’s really by association. 7 years ago nobody knew who I was, nobody saw me as any kind of part of the autism community and now here I am. Though I’ve had people confide in me, in the past, that they have the same condition that I have.
I was in my 6th year of working at a major retailer and I had graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s in Communications because I wanted to be a Radio DJ. Still, because I couldn’t intern or DJ at a station already I was left without those kinds of choices. An Aunt and an Uncle who missed my graduation came to the apartment my family and I were living in and proposed that I look for autism organizations because a friend of theirs found success in working for a Parkinsons’ Organization while having that same condition so I did some research.
I ended up sending emails to a host of different organizations within the area, even if Palm Tran Connection (my vehicular service) can only transport me in-county. I was pleased that the closest organization actually responded, the Autism Project of Palm Beach County. Needless to say after meeting the head of APPBC, Dr. Toby Honsberger of the Renaissance series of autism charter schools and this one individual from LEAP I was disappointed due to only getting a once a month position of telling the kids who and what I was. Then an email came to me from Dr. Honsberger about Dr. Marlene Sotelo who was, at the time, the COO of the Els for Autism Foundation. I sent a rambling email which she actually found fine and met with her and members of the staff and started working once a day to two to three and the Center of Excellence opened that August where I was able to quit my job from the major retailer.
Well, that is a lengthy thing to say. I created the ‘Spotlighter of the Month’ initiative for our newsletter to highlight our staffers who have relatives, friends, with autism to show the personal story. I helped found the Support Group for Adults with Autism, as summations. The accomplishment that gave me the most satisfaction is being listened to no matter what crazy thoughts I have in my head.
What is your impression of the South Florida autism community these days? How are things going? What’s going right? What’s wrong? What needs improvement, and what do you believe we need do to get there?
It is overall a perspective of the universal autism community that I will have to comment on. I think that it is good to have a little pushback against the feeling that autism, because it is considered a disability, is objectively wrong, or bad, for everyone but we should not use this perspective to lean into demonizations of people who are critical of how the diagnosis is affecting them and others, and we should not assert superiority of a condition over others. Research is vital, if there is a type of neurosurgery that can work on autism it should not be banned. People should play whomever they want to, yes it is good to have proper autism representation in the media but the question nobody asks is if it leads to typecasting. What if I want to play someone without autism?
Bullying is terrible, the use of the word ‘autism’ as some kind of joke or belittlement is beneath the people who use it this way, thinking that some plant can cause or cure autism is desperate and unfortunate. We don’t live in the 90s or early 2000s anymore, Autism Speaks has self-advocates working with them, we have schools, associations, organizations that see autism closer to the way self-advocates do. Unfortunately, though, if we go too far in another direction we may miss those with severe conditions of autism who might be left behind in our conversations and may be treated the same as self-advocates by people who try to have good intentions. ABA Therapy, as one example, has become controversial, by many activists but there have been many in the community who have been helped by it. Communicated wants and needs in a way that the listener can understand the most should not be THAT controversial.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you? What made it funny? What makes you happy?
Usually when I realize that I overthought a thing – which sometimes can be intimidating. I remember first playing Ogre Battle – March of the Black Queen for the SNES and I was intimidated by all of the mechanics and rules. When I picked it up again I realized how easy it was to play and get into and I ended up playing, not only, one of my favorite games, but a ‘great’ game too. That is one of the few, if any, to create a hybrid genre of RTS and RPG gameplay, especially on a console and a console that saw nothing else with Strategy and RPG elements on it at the time.
Who would you like to acknowledge/shoutout/promote/thank for their involvement in your life and how they helped you get to where you are today?
My parents, Mitchell and Debra Egber
My 7th Grade Teachers, Mr. Czervech (misspelled his name probably) and Mr. Jones
Martin Luther King Jr.
Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes
The Marx Brothers
Dr. Kerri Morse
Dr. Marlene Sotelo
My Advisory Board Members
My Co-Workers throughout the years
Our Clients at the Els for Autism Foundation
Once again, here is the link to his official website: www.MerrickEgber.com
Fore! Podcast: https://www.elsforautism.org/fore-autism-podcast/
INTERVIEWER’S CLOSING NOTES FOR THE READERS
Thank you for your time and readership. I hope you enjoyed this interview. There will be more interviews with more people to come in the near future. Have a great day!