Most days after school you will find freshman Jonas Hetrick preparing the basketball court for the Oak Harbor High School Girls Varsity Basketball team. At a recent practice, Coach Tom Kontak relayed to me that three years ago they asked Jonas if he would like to help out and be the team manager and he responded in the way he normally does, by putting his head down and shaking it “yes”. Jonas takes his job as manager very seriously. “He places the equipment on the court, helps with daily warm-ups and anywhere he is needed,” said Coach Kontak. “He’s a great addition to our team.”
Jonas has the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome (AS), which is an autism spectrum disorder. Asperger’s is one of a distinct group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. His parents, Dave & Denise, convey that Jonas was Failure to Thrive at the age of one month, which meant that his weight or rate of weight gain was significantly lower than that of other children of similar age and gender. Around 6-12 months of age they noticed Jonas’ development was not progressing as it should, as he did not babble or attempt to form words, was very fussy and never slept. Jonas would start to catch up on his development to only be behind again. At that time they turned to the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities Early Intervention program to assist with his development.
To finally receive the diagnosis was a relief for Dave & Denise. Denise comments, “Without a diagnosis it is hard to get the services your child needs. Once Jonas had the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, we were able to get the appropriate services he needed, although having the diagnosis also came with the realization that there was something wrong, that Jonas would always be different, and things were going to be difficult for him.”
One of the typical characteristics of Asperger’s is that the individual is not very social. This is not so for Jonas however. Jonas is very popular in school, likes to play basketball and soccer, and enjoys playing the baritone in the Oak Harbor High School Marching Band. Denise states they are relieved how he is accepted at OHHS, especially among the students. “It makes us smile when we go to the school or are just out in the community and everyone says hello to him. It makes us proud to have the kids at school support and encourage him no matter what the activity is. They are amazing and do a great job including him and making him feel like he belongs.”
Jonas plays point guard for the Ottawa County Rockets, which is the Special Olympics team for the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities. I recently attended a game and was not surprised regarding how well he handles the ball and loves to shoot 3-pointers. I also noticed that he has quite the fan base, including OHHS students that follow him from game to game cheering him on!
For Dave & Denise, every day is a challenge with the ups and downs of Jonas’ emotions and frustrations – a constant roller coaster ride. “It’s difficult to keep a consistent schedule with 3 other children and keeping Jonas in the loop of what is happening and when. If a schedule changes, it can be very difficult for him and he gets frustrated. As a parent you have to be patient, which is a struggle every day. You have to repeat yourself more than once or say things a different way so he understands.” It is also difficult for Jonas to communicate, especially his feelings, so therefore he acts them out instead of talking, which is frustrating to his siblings. Denise states “his siblings get frustrated because they have to repeat things often, and he doesn’t understand personal space or alone time.”
As for his future, Dave & Denise state their goals for him are to learn life skills so he may be able to live independently and hold a job someday. Jonas parents are working with his Service & Support Administrator through the Board of DD to assist through this next transition in his life. “It’s very important to have a good support system to help you through the tough days and there will be times you think you cannot do it anymore, but we are blessed to be surrounded by people who love Jonas and are willing to work with him and help him.”
For more information about Asperger syndrome or services the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities offers, please call 419-898-0400.