This is a post by Cheryl Vance, a 26 time world champion in the ATA and a 5th Degree Black Belt. She has taught martial arts for 13 years and has two sons. She is passionate advocate for Autism Speaks and her son Hunter.
The article “How My Son with Autism Became a Martial Arts Champion” posted last month by Autism Speaks highlighting the young 11-year-old martial artist tugged at my heart strings for many reasons. I thought, as I read the responses to the article on the Autism Speaks Facebook page, that it might be worth to speaking as to why.
Ethan, the boy in the article, is a very special kid to me in numerous ways because he is a student of mine. I know the struggles he has overcome and I see how he is different from my other students. I delight in what he is capable of doing and he has taught me a lot, and like a lot of responders to that article, he also gives me hope.
Having won 26 world titles in the ATA (American Taekwondo Association) myself, I have seen first-hand the power that martial arts has to elevate human potential no matter what any person’s ability or disability may be.
My son, Hunter will never be Ethan….but that’s OK!
But that particular story goes deeper for me than one child with autism that has risen to incredible heights because it is also a continual gut wrenching reminder that the reality of my situation will mean that my own son, Hunter, will ever come close to matching Ethan’s achievements or abilities.
While I celebrate Ethan, I can’t help feeling a little sad about my own situation. My son, Hunter is 15 and may never be able to tie his own shoes. The challenges we face go far beyond a body that has begun to enter puberty. And, as I read the many favorable responses to the Ethan article, I can easily relate to the parents that expressed frustration that it was a feel good story about the higher functioning kids showing what is possible. That is so far beyond the reality of my world and the world that family members of severely autistic people endure, that I wanted to address it. Because…that IS my world.
We, the parents of severely affected nonverbal children will continue to struggle with things like potty training and having to monitor constantly to make sure they stay safe. We want hope, too!
Progress and Hope….Thank God These Continue to Exist in Our Household
But, the one thing I can say is that there IS hope!
I take comfort in the fact that tools are being developed every day that help our children progress. I have to take a heartfelt look at the progress my son has made and am thankful for things like his iPad and the apps that have been created to allow him to better communicate. I am grateful for the time I have had with my son to learn where his passions and talents lie and how we have been able to utilize technology to allow him to feel joy and pride in his accomplishments.
Hunter still has trouble with speech, but can say a few words. When he said, “I love you!” for the very first time, that was on par with winning a world championship title! I know there are incredible people working hard to find the answers to some of the mysteries of autism and for that give me comfort that we are all fighting the good fight.
So I celebrate the things I can and know that hope and a mother’s love are very powerful things. You couple those with a never-ending attitude to learn and we will eventually find the keys to unlocking the answers.
Everyone has Gifts to Offer the World
So, the reality is that my son will never be an Ethan…but no one will. And no one will ever be a Hunter. Everyone is different and everyone has gifts to offer the world. And, I dare say, new keys are being developed all the time to help our children progress.
Written on my Black Belt is one simple word…”Believe.”