ARDSLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – For families coping with autism, life is a little bit easier because of 17-year-old Nick Lombardi from Ardsley, and it all stems from his own experiences with his younger brother.

“Even just taking him to the mall, Joey would run back and forth down the floor and it was crazy and we’d always try to just get Joey and calm him down and control him and people would come over to us and judge us and judge Joey and they would say to my mother that she was a bad parent that she couldn’t control my brother,” Nick told WCBS 880 reporter Sean Adams.

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“What was the worst someone ever said to you?” Adams asked mother Phyllis.

“‘Keep that kid on a leash,'” she answered.

She said it was painful. That cruelty cut like a knife.

“People would say ‘Can’t you control your kid?'” she said. “Especially as Joey got older and he looked like he should be able to behave himself and keep his shoes on or not run away from you or not grab somebody else’s French fry. People were very quick to judge and often we got looks, even in church and Nicholas used to get very upset about that.”

“It was horrible. I felt people just didn’t understand that Joey had autism and that Joey wasn’t doing what he was doing because he wanted to and that my mom was doing the best she could,” said Nick.

Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Stories from Main Street – Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

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When Nick was 9, he had an epiphany. What if Joey wore a button?

“The pin itself says ‘I’m not misbehaving. I have autism. Please be understanding,'” Nick said.

Someone with Autism Speaks saw the button and proposed selling it on their website.

LINK: Buy The Button

“It was so good for Nicholas because he had a way of making a challenging situation into a great one. He got empowered,” said Phyllis. “Nicholas was right. Once people do see that he does have a challenge, he’s not just misbehaving, there’s a total different type of reaction and tolerance and understanding.”

To date, the buttons have raised more than $75,000 for Autism Speaks, and Nick gives lectures about the experience.

The town of Greenburgh has even given him a citation, declaring January 23 to be Nick Lombardi Day.

Thanks to Nick’s button, people aren’t so quick to judge anymore. Joey is now 15, communicates with sign language and is well-behaved.

Nick said that Joey has helped him mature and make him who he is now.

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“Joey’s changed my life. Joey’s completely changed my and our whole family’s outlook on everything. We take nothing for granted. Every small step forward is a miracle,” Nick said.