Posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Faith, parenting, Winchester Sun Columns

Disciplined with a Shake in His Stride

Many employers suffer a grave loss of which they are unaware. They shy away from hiring prospective employees because they are on the autism spectrum. The mere words autism spectrum conjures images of inept social skills, stark refusal to follow instructions, bursts of fury, refusal to take correction or responsibility and more. Amid, such a tsunami of negativity it is no wonder they drown out the positives. Yet, even as toddlers, there is a lot we can do to help our kids secure a job. We need to learn to recognize and respond to the potential.

Prior to Annie Sullivan’s arrival, Helen Keller had no discipline. She prowled her family home, doing as she pleased and responded to attempts of refusal with violent outbursts. Her parents labored under the misconception that allowing Helen’s atrocious behavior expressed love. Lucky for Helen a fiercely determined, courageous, half-blind teacher understood the roots of love begin in discipline. And discipline blooms from the small things.

IMG-2425I was nervous about my son Colton’s first involvement with STRIDE (Supporting Therapeutic Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities every day. I knew it was a fantastic program, but it forced me out of my comfort zone. It challenged me to face my fears even as I sought to still Colton’s. I had to swallow my pride, accept I wasn’t the only one able to care for my son and get myself out of his way. He was evolving. Pandering to my fears placed me between the kid he was and the man he’d someday be

This week, Colton started his first job. It’s a goal he’s pursued for several years. He has worked for family, friends, and neighbors but has been unsuccessful in the traditional job market. Until now.

Like most on the spectrum, Colton excels at repetitive tasks. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t advise the fast-paced and often stressful environment of restaurant work. However, food prep at Steak and Shake is ideal. Colton’s job is to remain in one station and chop, weigh, bag and otherwise prepare food for use the next day. He is able to work at his pace, somewhat segregated from other employees, spared from the hustle and bustle of peak hours, does the same thing daily and works off a list. An Asperger kid’s dream!

STRIDE members encouraging Colton at work

One of the greatest hindrances to kids on the spectrum is fear of the unknown. Doing things for the first time is scary for most but debilitating for some on the spectrum. Colton didn’t have that hurdle. He had an idea of what to expect because STRIDE taught him the basics of food preparation years ago. When we faced our fears and trudged the painful path of discipline and self-discovery in STRIDE, we had no inkling of what it would bring. The dividends of that years old investment are evident today. Colton loves his job at Steak and Shake. His self-esteem has grown exponentially because his coworkers lavish him with praise, kindness, and encouragement.

Colton explaining his job & encouraging his friends.

Times have changed a lot since the days of Helen Keller. But a child’s need for discipline has not. The world’s expectations of our kids tend to be low. It’s our responsibility to be the Annie Sullivan our kids deserve. We must love them through our pain so they may be a valuable productive member of the workforce and the community at large.


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My Son Colton Has Aspergers & Needs Your Help

August2010 123After being bullied in Middle School my son, Colton, who has Asperger’s Syndrome found his place in the world by being the water boy for his high school football team. But after graduation, he was again left searching for what we all need, a place to fit in. People with Asperger’s have a natural inclination to turn inward. They prefer to be alone because Asperger’s annihilates any social skills. If left to themselves and without intervention people with Asperger’s can become self-destructive and lead unproductive lives.

Many things can be done for people like Colton and others with disabilities. It is amazing how what may appear to be a minor thing to the rest of us turns out to be life altering to those with disabilities. Sadly, many with disabilities don’t get to give or receive all they can in their communities because they have no way to engage. Often caregivers are unable or unwilling to get them where they need to be. In our case, Colton has a younger, more profoundly disabled brother, which makes it nearly impossible to get anywhere. My worries about Colton floating through life unconnected, with no friends or sense of community proved unfounded when STRIDE entered in.

STRIDE (Supporting Therapeutic Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities Everyday) STRIDE provides an environment that caters to the needs of each participant. The focus of STRIDE is not to entertain, even though laughter and entertainment abounds. The center of the program is to provide a safe place for people with intellectual disabilities to learn and grow, so they may become all they can and give back to those who have so lovingly given to them.

STRIDE participants have classes where they are taught valuable life skills such as cooking and money management.





STRIDE is environmental  conscious when they plant their garden and grow their own food.   






 During fundraisers for STRIDE, you will always find the participants working.






They are active and volunteer in their community.











They learn self-defense.



STRIDE is  A LOT of learning fun.


STRIDE has taught Colton how to turn the word friend from a noun to a verb by teaching him to not only have a friend but be one as well. During a modified rope course Colton volunteered to go first which was a huge shock to me because Colton has always been terrified of things like that. He once flat refused to climb over a very sturdy, steady, wide-bar gate, so for him to attempt moving ropes is nothing short of miraculous. When I asked him about it, he said he felt like he needed to be an example to his friends. He said, “I thought if I did it first they wouldn’t be so scared.” Through teary eyes, I told him how proud I was. Then I saw the pictures and the tears flowed freely. He explained how he and his friends were “spotting” each other and sometimes just holding on to them or giving them a boost, because, he said, “we all need a little help.” Indeed, we do.

Today I’m asking you to give a little help Colton and all his friends by simply voting for STRIDE in the Toyota 100 Cars For Good on Nov. 18. Toyota will give away vans to organizations receiving the most votes. Considering STRIDE picks up and drops off participants in only one van getting a new van would be a huge benefit to them. You have to wait until Nov. 18 to vote for STRIDE but you can go to the page  and have a reminder sent to you on the day of voting. Or you can follow this blog and I will be sending out a reminder to vote as well. You can also follow the Facebook page “Vote For STRIDE in 100 Cars For Good”

When I look at this picture, I see Colton on that rope scared to death but trying to be an example for his friends. The faces of his friends clearly reveal their uncertainty but their hands reveal their hearts. They are unsure but still willing to reach out a helping hand. All their hands together will cover Colton should he need help. But your hand will cover all of them when  you reach out and help by voting for STRIDE on Nov. 18.