December 15, 2011
Eric Rozansky is an incredible, loving, passionate, sympathetic, humorous, sensitive person with autism. Years ago no one would have connected all those wonderfully descriptive words with a person with autism. When Eric was diagnosed thirteen years ago, popular thinking was that a person with autism was unable to experience emotions or relate to other people. But times have changed (a little) and now we see that people with autism have amazing abilities and often possess tremendous potential.
Eric is one of those amazing people who has autism and has been able to reach outside of himself. At 15 years old he can now be part of the world…but that’s just the middle of the story…
It has been an incredibly long and arduous struggle. Eric started to receive services for his disability at 20 months old. Unable to speak or communicate in any meaningful way, Eric received over six therapy sessions a week at home and also participated in a special needs toddler program. He did not ever look at anyone, even me, and would throw total tantrums whenever anyone except his Aunt Paula or I would try to go near him. Even his dad was unable to pick him up or even be close to him without Eric having a meltdown.
As soon as he was eligible, Eric began a special needs preschool at the age of three, riding the bus for an hour each way to school, five days a week. Yet, with all the support Eric would just jabber sounds and did not speak or point to objects at all until he was almost 4 years old.
For years we did not know what he knew, or if he was even aware that other people were around him.
At 4-and-a -half years old, during a large family dinner, Eric began jabbering as usual, and as I tried to quiet him down he turned to me and said, “Let me speak.”…it was then that a little bit of light came into our life with Eric.
Shortly after he began to speak, psychologists were able to test him and let us know that, in fact, Eric knew quite a lot, and as we were to soon learn, he had a lot to say.
As anyone who knows anyone with autism will tell you, people with autism have very specific interests, and spend most of their time on what they are interested in. And usually those interests supersede all other experiences with other people. Their specific interests tend to dominate their thinking and direct their activities. Eric is no exception. For years all he would want to talk about was animals and dinosaurs. As time went on, Eric has expanded his interests to birds, history and certain types of rock music. Then, for better or worse, video games came into his life, as they do for more young boys. However, because of his autism, Eric tends to perseverate on the things he is interested in, and video games have sometimes completely taken over his life.
It takes a lot of planning and structure for Eric to successfully get through his day and do all the things that need to be done. Eric, like so many other people with autism, thrives in a structured setting. As a family we have been able to create a life that has somewhat of a predictable schedule and have developed a set of rules for Eric to follow. But life cannot always be planned, and it’s taken A LOT of practice teaching Eric to be a little flexible. For example, dinner cannot always be at the same time, and sometimes he needs to share the computer with another family member even if it’s technically his time to have the computer.
Thankfully, Eric has developed the ability to manage small changes. But some things he seems unable to change. Food is a huge issue, since he does not like certain textures or smells (in fact, for about six years he ate almost nothing except bananas, chicken nuggets, French fries and cheerios). Another is how he wears his clothes. Eric needs constant reminding to tie his shoes, tuck (or un-tuck) his shirt, fix his collar, button up correctly and get his hood out of his back. While this may appear to be quaint and minor quirks, what’s cute on a kid is not so adorable on an adult...and when will he finally remember to do these things?
We tried hard to set Eric up with play dates. No one from our neighborhood allowed their children to play with Eric. In fact, we had to remove him from our home school in the middle of kindergarten, after his teacher told me, “I feel sorry for you that Eric is your son.”
Thankfully, we were able to have him placed in another community school, where the culture of acceptance prevailed, but only during school hours.Except for one other little boy who also had special needs, Eric was not invited to anyone’s house, nor did anyone accept invitations from us to come and play with Eric for the next six years.
Eric asked us when he was nine years old why he was different. We told him that he has autism, and we have never regretted that decision. Eric owns who he is. How can we expect him to accept himself, unless we accept him?
Eric did not have a real friend until he was 10 years old, and that friend was also on the autism spectrum. They met at a social skills group that we took Eric to in hopes of creating some type environment where he could play with other boys. But when this boy’s mother found out that Eric and her son were talking about having autism, she ended the friendship, saying that her son needed to find more typical and appropriate playmates.
Eric Rozansky is a person with autism, which means that Eric’s parents have a son with autism. Eric’s brother, Daniel, and sister, Isabelle, have a brother with autism. Eric’s grandfather has a grandson with autism. Eric’s aunts and uncles have a nephew with autism, and Eric’s cousins have a cousin with autism. The neighborhood where we live has a person with autism living there (my guess is that there’s probably a few people with autism living in our neighborhood). Each year we learn that there are more and more people being identified as having autism spectrum disorder. Yes, we identify them, but society still falls short in being able to give people with autism a place alongside the rest of us in school, on the playground, in sports, with jobs and with meaningful social relationships.
Beyond understanding, acceptance is what the Autism Society of America is working so hard to achieve. Eric will ALWAYS have autism…some things will always be a struggle, be it developing social connections, getting and keeping a job or finding a way to live independently. It is for this reason that we ask you for your support to help the Autism Society, help all of those people…people like our son, Eric.
Learn more by visiting the Eric Rozansky Acceptance of People With Autism Fund, which Felecia established to pay tribute to her son Eric.
April 10, 2013
The Autism Society, the nation’s largest and oldest grassroots autism organization, has chosen Pittsburgh as the host city of its 44th annual conference on autism spectrum disorders.
April 5, 2013
Individuals with autism can attend the Autism Society National Conference and Exposition (in Pittsburgh) for FREE this year! Learn more: www.autism-society.org/conference.
April 3, 2013
Monarch Teaching Technologies, the makers of VizZle®, web-based educational software for visual learners with autism, will give one-year of free VizZle to every new (or renewing) Champion Member during April.
April 2, 2013
Read the Autism Society’s digital magazine about autism spectrum disorders!
April 2, 2013
Today, throughout the world, individuals will come together highlighting the needs and dreams of people living with autism.