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Pendleton autism advocate Wehrli reaches social media stardom through viral video | Northwest

PENDLETON — When the social media star announced in a video that her 5-year-old son has autism, William Wehrli knew he wanted to reach out.

Wehrli has autism and is a local autism advocate living in Pendleton. He wanted to tell her that doctors predicted he would never be independent or graduate; that he proved them wrong when he obtained his master’s degree; that he has his own home, pays his rent, owns a car, cares for a dog, cooks, cleans and works many jobs.

He made a video on Sept. 5 on TikTok, the social networking service focused on sharing videos, saying just that.

“This was me assuring that her son would also be able to succeed and be independent,” Wehrli said.

He was shocked when Laura Clery responded.

Clery is an actress and comedian who consistently receives millions of views across multiple social media platforms. She shot a video with her husband reacting to Wehrli’s video. They smiled, held their hands over their heart and blew kisses. As with all of her videos, thousands of people commented back.

Who’s cutting onions? Clery wrote in the comments.

“I’m not crying my eyes are just sweating,” a commenter said. “My grandson has autism. This video makes me so happy. Thanks for sharing.”

Messages flooded Wehrli’s accounts as the video spread rapidly and his following skyrocketed. Many of the messages were from people who have loved ones with autism. They said doctors had told them the same thing — that their child would never succeed — and seeing Wehrli’s video gave them hope.

“I was definitely surprised,” Wehrli said. “In fact, I responded by going for a run with my dog because it was so exhilarating for me.”

Wehrli was thrilled. He said it felt great to see his video having an impact. He responded to many of the messages, providing people with advice. But then the comments became endless, and he became overwhelmed.

“What they don’t realize is that I’m only one person and I can’t respond to everybody,” he said. “All those messages I was getting was just so draining. A lot of people think it would be fun to be famous, but it can be very overwhelming. It was draining my mental health and taking a toll on me.”

He turned off direct messaging to all his accounts. Instead, he pointed commenters toward his website, where they could sign up for paid coaching. Some people were pushy, insisting that he dole out advice for free. Others signed up for sessions.

Wehrli helps parents navigate the challenges that come with having children with autism. Whether it be in school or at home, his goal is to draw on his personal experiences to help parents better understand their child.

“I would give them my take on what the situation is like in their shoes to help them understand how to connect with their child and what I think they should do to help their child,” he said.

He also uses social media platforms to distribute facts and information about autism, with a goal of dispelling misconceptions. Wehrli believes social media can be a good way for people to talk constructively about autism and to share their stories. But for now, he’s keeping his direct messages closed.

“The internet has the capability of reaching everybody around the world, so anybody who’s on the internet who stumbles across this, this would be a good information source for them,” he said. “Maybe this is what I’m called to do, what I’m here for. Everybody is trying to find their purpose in life. Maybe this is my purpose.”

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