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Youth Refuses to Be Defined by His Disabilities

Youth Refuses to Be Defined by His Disabilities

Ryan’s parents always worried about how he would blend with peers. Would he be rejected due to his disabilities? Could a child on the autism spectrum still have academic, social, and vocational opportunities like other children?

On June 5th, Ryan’s parents watched him cross the podium and receive his high school diploma, capping off a senior year filled with honors. Ryan’s parents referred him to the Lebanon YAP Behavioral Health Program in 2003 with concerns about his attention and focus at school and social difficulties. Ryan’s Therapeutic Support Staff (TSS) from YAP, Cathy Beare, quickly recognized his love for people and sports and began connecting him with unique opportunities that might support his positive development.

Cathy’s relationship with Ryan became a tool that supported the development of social skills. She went on to work with Ryan for 11 years.

“She got to know him and they had a good bond. There was good rapport all the way around,” says Ryan’s mother Karen. “We became like family. We all cared about Ryan and that is how it’s supposed to be."

Cathy combined Ryan’s passion for people with his passion for sports, especially baseball, and helped him earn the opportunity to be the official scorekeeper for his high school’s baseball team where he has been part of the team for the past few years. Ryan was recently honored by his team as their “10th man” for his commitment to the baseball program.

Ryan also served his track and field team as their equipment manager.

“Everyone he ends up meeting likes him and thinks he has a great personality. He can get along with anyone. He enjoys being in the community and likes to help others,” says his YAP clinician Deidre Deiter.

“I never wanted anyone to like him because of his disability. I wanted them to like him for who he is,” says Cathy.

Cathy’s wish came true for Ryan who is so liked by his peers that they voted him most spirited in his class in recognition of his school spirit and support of his high school’s athletics. His senior class also crowned him prom king.

It turns out, asking a girl to the prom was as difficult for Ryan as any other teenage boy. Cathy and Ryan’s parents coached him and role played, preparing him to ask his long-time friend to the prom. She gladly accepted his invitation.

These highlights are the result of a lot of hard work and training around social skills and life skills. Social skill training started with basic instruction on eye contact, greetings, and how to initiate conversations. The lessons progressed to Cathy taking him into a grocery store and prompting him to ask a store clerk for assistance in locating an item.

Cathy accompanied Ryan to a lot of school events which he loved to attend and she coached him on his social skills which became instrumental in Ryan becoming one of the most popular kids in school.

“I think it is so important to work with these kids in the community, where these skills are needed and where we can practice with real-life situations,” says Cathy.

Ryan knows how to buy groceries, prepare meals, and get to work on the bus and he is motivated to be as independent as he can possibly be. Ryan works at Hershey Park and takes a half-hour bus ride independently both ways. Ryan’s child-family team helped prepare him for the job by teaching him to ride the bus and deal with the public through lots of role-plays.

Hershey Park is not his only job. He also works at Dutchway Market, a local grocery store.

“Everyone loves him there too” says Deidre.

“How many kids on the autism spectrum actually work at a job where they interact with the public all day?” asks Cathy.

Next year, Ryan takes another step in his vocational training where he will participate in Project Search, an advanced job training program funded by the Veteran’s Administration and the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

“I am so proud of him and I adore him and his family,” says Cathy. “His family has a lot to do with his success.”

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