Autism advocate: How one Cary teenager found his voice through friendship, football

  • Danny Brezina gets a hug from his mother, Missi, after reading an autism awareness proclamation during a board meeting at Cary Village Hall on April 6, in Cary. This was the third year Brezina, a senior with autism at Cary-Grove High School, was offered the opportunity to deliver the proclamation at a village board meeting during Autism Awareness Month.

    Danny Brezina gets a hug from his mother, Missi, after reading an autism awareness proclamation during a board meeting at Cary Village Hall on April 6, in Cary. This was the third year Brezina, a senior with autism at Cary-Grove High School, was offered the opportunity to deliver the proclamation at a village board meeting during Autism Awareness Month. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

  • Cary-Grove High School football co-manager Danny Brezina bumps elbows with the Trojans as they prepare to take the field against Prairie Ridge High School during a football game on April 10, 2021, at Cary-Grove High School in Cary.

    Cary-Grove High School football co-manager Danny Brezina bumps elbows with the Trojans as they prepare to take the field against Prairie Ridge High School during a football game on April 10, 2021, at Cary-Grove High School in Cary. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

  • Cary Mayor Mark Kownick, left, and Trustee Ellen McAlpine, right, look to Danny Brezina as he prepares to take the mayor's seat to deliver an autism awareness proclamation during a board meeting at Cary Village Hall on April 6, 2021, in Cary. This was the third year Brezina, a senior with autism at Cary-Grove High School, was offered the opportunity to deliver the proclamation at a village board meeting during Autism Awareness Month.

    Cary Mayor Mark Kownick, left, and Trustee Ellen McAlpine, right, look to Danny Brezina as he prepares to take the mayor's seat to deliver an autism awareness proclamation during a board meeting at Cary Village Hall on April 6, 2021, in Cary. This was the third year Brezina, a senior with autism at Cary-Grove High School, was offered the opportunity to deliver the proclamation at a village board meeting during Autism Awareness Month. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

 
 
Updated 7/19/2021 3:05 PM

Missi Brezina remembers the exact date her son Danny was diagnosed with autism: Sept. 25, 2005.

"It was a good day because we finally figured out how we could help Danny," the Cary resident said.

 

Danny Brezina, who graduated from Cary-Grove High School this year, was a quiet child, who didn't speak until after his fifth birthday, his mother told the Northwest Herald.

Lights were too much for him. He only liked to be in the car for about five minutes, before getting claustrophobic. He wouldn't respond When someone called his name and never crawled. Instead, Danny started walking when he was just shy of eight months old.

"He couldn't communicate, so he would cry," Missi Brezina said. "And he would cry so hard that he'd make himself sick."

With Danny's diagnosis came amazing resources, Missi Brezina said, including therapists and specialists. His behavioral therapy helped him handle things that triggered him.

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When Danny was 5, his mom signed him up for the Cary Junior Trojans flag football team.

"I walked in there to sign him up and they said, 'Absolutely. There is room for your son in this program,'" Missi Brezina said. "And for nine years, they accommodated him."

He played football until his freshman year of high school. Then, Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg asked if he wanted to be a manager.

Through this position, Danny got to know his friends on the football team even better and he got better at reading social cues, having comprehensive conversations and appropriate reactions. With the help of coaches and teachers like Seaburg, and Ryan Ludwig, a dean of students at Cary-Grove, Missi Brezina said, Danny got the support he needed.

"Those boys that he just graduated with truly were his family," Missi Brezina said.

It isn't just on the football field that Danny has been able to shine.

He has become an advocate for other autistic people, along with his mom, who promised from the moment Danny was diagnosed that she would be his voice until he didn't need her to anymore.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In April, Danny read the Autism Awareness month proclamation for the third year in a row at a recent Cary Village Board meeting.

"There was a reason why God put him on this earth with me," Missi Brezina said. "And that was, if we were to help just one person, one family, one group of people understand that everybody is different, everybody learns differently, and that's OK, then we've done our job."

In August, Danny will start Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155's STRIVE program, which teaches life skills, such as grocery shopping, getting a job and having your own apartment, while taking classes at McHenry County College.

Danny, who has an affinity for graffiti and anime, hopes to become an artist.

"He is an amazing artist. I mean, phenomenal," his mother said. "What he's told me ... is that he draws how he sees things and how he envisions things. Everything is bright and colorful because the world to him is bright and colorful."

Along with all the friends he's made, Missi Brezina said Danny is thankful for his family, including his sisters Alysha, 20, and Natalie, a rising junior at Cary-Grove.

"They are his mama bears, and those two girls are his heroes," she said. "He's very thankful that God gave him to this family. He says that all the time."

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