Success Story #2: AJ and his dad, Greg
AJ and his dad, Greg, used to live in Florida, where AJ was enrolled in public school, long before AJ’s disability was discovered.
“He started school in Florida public schools. He wasn’t doing great, and investigating that, I assumed it was the school rather than AJ,” Greg explained. “They had 26 kids in a class and 14 books, and it just wasn’t conducive. The teacher’s suggestion was, ‘Well, he just has to fight for a book at the end of the day.’ And AJ – it might be a lot to do with his disability – is not an aggressive type of person, socially.
“So, I put him in a private Catholic school. He did much better there. Everything was the same – just moving from classroom to classroom, or classroom to lunch, anything. Single file. They all wore uniforms. No talking. It was an extremely strict environment that most kids would complain about, but AJ seemed to relish it.” Greg assumed it was the school environment that had made the difference, and AJ’s disability still went undiscovered.
When AJ and Greg moved to Jamestown, they discovered that AJ was a year behind in his schooling. Greg hired a tutor, who was able to use AJ’s learning style to catch him up in his academics. Around this time, which was while AJ was in junior high, Greg discovered that AJ had a learning disability. AJ was assigned a consultant teacher who not only helped him with his reading troubles, but also with his other disabilities that, at the time, were unknown to Greg and AJ. With the help of the consultant teacher, AJ was able to take and pass the Regents exams to receive his full diploma, although school officials weren’t sure AJ would be able to pass the exams.
“As someone who pushes through lots of bridges, I told them back then, `No he’s going to go for a Regents Diploma,’ Greg said. “And he did; he came out with a high B average. And a Regents Diploma.”
Unfortunately, the Sykes family’s struggles were not over. Around the time that Greg married Karen, which was during AJ’s senior year of high school, AJ got involved with people who were more than willing to take advantage of his disability for financial gain through the welfare system. The Sykeses discovered that AJ had autism and an addiction to friends, both of which played a part in his search for friends, wherever he could find them. The friends AJ found, however, were usually people who wanted to use him for more welfare money and tried to lure him away from his family. Some of them even put him to work, bringing AJ’s situation into the category of human trafficking.
On top of that, AJ’s experience at college was much more difficult than high school. Although he was being retested for autism to be able to put that condition into his Individual Education Plan, the disabilities office would only address the disabilities listed on the IEP forms. He was struggling in classes, particularly with reading comprehension. He was being bullied by other students, but because AJ is an adult, his parents were basically stuck.
Greg and Karen were desperate for help. The Resource Center’s intake phone number was passed along to them, and eventually they called Carol Peterson, TRC’s Central Intake Counselor, who got them in touch with people who could help them.
AJ, now 21 years old, is part of the SUCCESS program and also has a network of TRC employees striving to help him get through college, as well as develop work and social skills. AJ has already been through one six-class session of SUCCESS and is looking forward to another. Karen and Greg both see the improvement, especially as he is going through the classes.
“We heard about the SUCCESS program, and it sounded great,” Greg said. “I think it’s had a major impact on our son, even in six weeks.”
Karen added, “Actually, we got a scholarship through the Step Up for Autism, through the walk. They earn money, and our first six-week session was partially paid for through those funds. I think we would’ve said `no’ if we didn’t have that scholarship.”
Karen also said she would like to see more elementary-aged children get involved with SUCCESS to develop their social skills early and avoid situations like AJ went through.
Greg and Karen are also grateful for their team of TRC employees who help them through crises and work together to develop AJ’s career skills and social skills.
The Sykeses have also appreciated that the program is built to fit AJ, which has been important in his progress. “The SUCCESS program’s leader is sort of the person who makes whatever information we gain from these other people at The Resource Center, good or bad, she makes it become a goal through SUCCESS classes so that when he’s really doing the stuff in real life, she’s not just doing a curriculum – she’s using the curriculum to follow AJ,” stated Karen.
AJ and his parents have benefited from the SUCCESS program, and they encourage people to donate to the program and participate in Step Up for Autism so that young adults like AJ can have the chance to develop the social skills they need to maintain healthy relationships at work, at home and in life.