PENDLETON – When the social media star announced in a video that her 5-year-old son had autism, William Wehrli knew he wanted to reach out.
Wehrli is autistic and is a local autism advocate living in Pendleton. He wanted to tell him that the doctors predicted that he would never be independent or graduate; that he proved them wrong when he obtained his master’s degree; that he has his own house, pays his rent, owns a car, takes care of a dog, cooks, cleans and works many jobs.
He made a video on September 5 on TikTok, the social networking service focused on sharing videos, saying just that.
“It was I who ensured that his son would also be able to be successful and be independent,” Wehrli said.
He was shocked when Laura Clery responded.
Clery is an actress and comedian who regularly receives millions of views on multiple social media platforms. She shot a video with her husband reacting to Wehrli’s video. They smiled, put their hands on their hearts and blew kisses. As with all of her videos, thousands of people responded.
Who cuts the onions? Cléry wrote in the comments.
“I’m not crying, my eyes are just sweating,” one commentator said. “My grandson is autistic. This video makes me so happy. Thanks for sharing. “
The messages flooded Wehrli’s accounts as the video spread rapidly and its subscribers skyrocketed. Most of the messages were from people who have loved ones with autism. They said doctors told them the same thing – that their child would never succeed – and seeing Wehrli’s video gave them hope.
“I was really surprised,” Wehrli said. “I actually responded by going for a run with my dog because it was so exhilarating for me.”
Wehrli was delighted. He said it was great to see his video make an impact. He replied to many messages, providing advice to people. But then the comments got on and on and he got overwhelmed.
“What they don’t realize is that I’m just one person and can’t answer everyone,” he said. “All these messages I was getting were so exhausting. A lot of people think it would be fun to be famous, but it can be very overwhelming. It was draining my sanity and wreaking havoc on me. “
He has disabled direct messaging on all of his accounts. Instead, he directed commenters to his website, where they could sign up for paid coaching. Some people were arrogant, insisting that he give advice for free. Others signed up for sessions.
Wehrli helps parents overcome the challenges of having children with autism. Whether at school or at home, her goal is to tap into her personal experiences to help parents better understand their child.
“I would give them my take on the situation for them to help them understand how to connect with their child and what I think they should do to help their child,” he said.
It also uses social media platforms to disseminate facts and information about autism, with the aim of dispelling misconceptions. Wehrli believes social media can be a great way for people to constructively talk about autism and share their stories. But for now, he’s keeping his direct messages closed.
“The internet has the capacity to reach everyone in the world, so anyone on the internet who comes across it would be a good source of information for them,” he said. “Maybe that’s what I’m called to do, what I’m here for. Everyone is trying to find their purpose in life. Maybe that’s my goal.