Family’s photos with autistic son, taken almost 20 years apart, has a bigger message: ‘No disability can stop him’
When Odin Frost was diagnosed with severe autism as a toddler, his parents, Tim and Deanda, were told he likely wouldn't survive long enough to reach adulthood.
He did, though — and now Odin, 20, has not only defied the odds but he's become an internet sensation, befriending the likes of pro skater Tony Hawk and traveling the globe to show the world that "nothing is impossible," says his dad.
"For us, we feel that people like Odin have been left out of conversations because of his disability," Tim tells Yahoo Life. "The reality is he understands every single thing that's going on, his neurons just fire in a different pattern and he can't communicate the way he wants to. There's no disability that can stop Odin from seeing the world, and it's been really cool to see."
In the last few years, Tim and Deanda have taken it upon themselves to "be our son's voice," he says, showcasing various milestones from his life on social media as a way to inspire other families who have kids with special needs.
Such was the case on March 8, when the Frost family shared side-by-side photos of themselves, posing in front of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, nearly 20 years apart.
"Almost 20 years ago we came to visit our sister in San Antonio. We were tired and frustrated without the help of google maps & iPhone GPS," Tim captioned the pics, which show a toddler-aged Odin in a stroller next to his flexing mom; that image is atop a second photo of the duo taken in the present day.
"We mustered up all our energy and carried baby Odin up the stairs in 100 degree Texas sun weather. We came we saw we conquered," the post said of their first visit. "Since we were back here 20 years later we decided to recreate it down to the outfits. Haha. I think we did pretty good."
The post received warm messages from Odin's fans across the country.
"You guys never cease to amaze me 🙌 big big love ❤️," one commenter wrote, with another adding: "Love this! You all just bring so much joy to my heart."
"This is wonderful!" another chimed in. "I hope it won’t be another 20 years before you all come back and visit! Safe travels home."
Tim, whose family resides in Tyler, Texas, tells Yahoo Life that while the photo was fun to recreate, it has a much larger message.
"We wanted to showcase Odin's perseverance," he says. "We are a family that is always trying different things, whether it's a road trip from here to California or from here to San Antonio, but a lot of times it's very, very, very difficult even just to go to a grocery store. We never know what will overwhelm Odin, but we also don't want to underestimate what he can do and what he's capable of. We always want to be his voice and advocate for him, and to let him see the world. Anything that he wants to see, we want to give him the opportunity to be able to see that."
Still, Tim says there are a number of critics who've accused the family of "exploiting" Odin's disability on the internet, which they experienced recently after posting the same side-by-side photo on Reddit.
That kind of criticism isn't new for Tim, who's shared his own story of overcoming addiction as a way to help others. The family dealt with it firsthand in 2020, after a graduation photo of Odin and his best friend Jordan Granberry, also born with brain damage, went viral.
"People were so mean [online] and, in my heart, I wasn't ready for it," Tim recalls of that time. "I wasn't ready for people to be mean to him, so I just shut down all social media. Then there were articles and I was like, oh shoot, there's like 2,000 comments on them. I was so scared to start reading them."
Meanwhile, Odin continued to live a life many young men dream of. To celebrate his 19th birthday last year, for example, Hawk invited Odin to join him and his crew for a weekend in California where they collaborated on a song, "Dropped in," which is now available to stream on Spotify and Apply Music.
As the world continued to fall in love with Odin and his family — now frequent users of the "block" button on Reddit — they say they realized there were "far more" good people online than bad, and started allowing Odin to share more of his life publicly.
As a result, "he started getting more confident and more joy in his heart," Tim says. "The majority of people now are very kind. We block people who purposely go on there to be mean or rude, and just let them scream to the void. That energy is not for us. We are all about love and kindness."
Odin, who is non-verbal and communicates with Yahoo Life through his dad in a language his parents jokingly refer to as "Odinese," says the community he's found online has allowed him to be "fully and completely" himself. A dream of his, says Tim, is to be the “first non-verbal autistic human to be nominated and win” a Grammy, for voicing the main character of a children’s project the family is developing.
"The main thing he says is to 'always be good to you,'" Tim says. "'Be good to you' and 'I got you.' Those are the two mantras he says," which are reflective of the person he is inside. "He's the most determined, resilient human I've ever met," his dad adds.
His resilience, in fact, continues to amaze his doctors — including the same one who believed he wouldn't survive into adulthood.
"He started tearing up at Odin," Tim says of the doctor after a recent visit. "He was like, 'I'm so proud of you. You've gone above and beyond.' It made me and my wife tear up. This doctor really cares, and he is proud to have been proven wrong."
Tim hopes Odin's story can be an inspiration for other people living with disabilities, to remind them that their capabilities in life aren't as limited as they or others might think.
"Every single family that has disabilities has a different journey, and every single person with autism or with any kind of disability has a different journey and a different path," he says. "The real power is in the love you have for each other. When you fully embrace that, I feel that you can do crazy impossible things and can make great beautiful memories without worrying what other people think about you. Love always wins. We truly believe that."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.