Hearing Patrick VandenAvond rattle off the list of activities he has participated in over his school career is dizzying. Cross-country (including a trip to the 2014 state meet as a member of the district team), basketball, band, track, chorus, student council, and school plays. In addition, he has found time to maintain a near perfect 4.0 grade point average, holds down a part-time job in the community and participates as a member of the Boy Scouts.
“I like to push myself, and prove that I can work hard” said VandenAvond. “I have fun.”
None of this might be all that interesting except for the fact that Patrick was diagnosed at the age of two with global development delay. He also struggles with ADHD, is considered to be on the autism spectrum, and copes with a variety of physical challenges.
“We’ve never limited Patrick and I think that’s the key,” said his mother, Jaci. “I follow Patrick’s lead when it comes to how far he wants to go and what he wants to participate in and accomplish. We never say no.”
Patrick has also been part of a community and education system that has challenged him and refused to limit his potential because he participates in special education programming. The staff members from Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) have lead that charge by advocating for Patrick and helping others to think beyond the stereotypes about what kids with special needs can achieve.
Dr. Mary Stevens, AEA 267 Director of Special Education, believes Patrick is a great example of what can happen when teachers, community and family collaborate and together hold high expectations for a student with special needs.
“We have to challenge our assumptions as a society and education system about what kids with special needs can do and learn,” said Stevens. “We have a good system of support in place for these individuals but what gets in the way sometimes is our own mindset about how far they can go. Our job is to help them overcome the barriers and go further than they think they can.”
Perhaps Patrick’s ninth grade basketball coach, Craig Eisenman, sums it up best, “[Students with special needs] are no different than the other kids; they only want what we all want in life. That is a chance. A chance to be a kid, and to participate and grow and learn. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Life is about the chances we get. Given a chance, many times kids will dream their wildest dreams and exceed expectations…all kids have the same dreams.”
Next year, Patrick plans to attend the local community college and study computer programming. He will likely need continued support and training in life skills to successfully transition to adulthood. But given Patrick’s attitude, he’ll probably do so with the same success he has achieved throughout his K-12 career.
When asked what advice he would give other kids with special needs, he smiles and says simply, “…work hard. There is hope!”