Anyway You Spell It, Adam Johnson Is A Winner

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – It’s a moment Adam Johnson will never forget.

“I found a new life changing moment,  I found a new great moment,” Johnson said.

This great moment lives for everyone to see on YouTube now, the moment Adam felt the support of his cheering classmates, and the moment he felt proud of his accomplishment which was winning the school spelling bee.

“That is true.  I was very, very happy,” Johnson said.

The winning word was “prominent” it was no big deal according to him.

“I felt like, man, I can do this!” he said.

For most of his life, Adam’s known he could do many things, but some things can be difficult.  Adam is autistic, and for years he was in classes for people with special needs.  Adam’s mom says he gets stressed out easily, he takes things very literally, and he doesn’t like loud noises, for that reason she says special classes were necessary until recently, when Adam switched to mainstream classes and thrived.

“A lot of it is just determination I think.  He really wants to succeed,” Linda Johnson, Adam’s mom, said.

Adam perseveres by studying,working toward his next goal of winning the county spelling bee.

His family believes he’s got a shot at winning the next one too.

“I knew if he had the chance, and I’m just glad they gave it to him, that he would excel, and I guarantee there’s a lot more kids out there just like that,” Linda said.

Because sometimes all it takes is an opportunity for one new “great moment” to happen.


Today’s Autism Heroes: Brownsburg East 7th Grade Football Team

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Brownsburg East’s 7th Grade football team helped make a dream come true for one of their teammates Tuesday night.

Click this link to view the accompanying video:

Lori Birr is just one of the many proud football moms at East.

“He’s autistic and has practiced with his team all season,” said Lori Birr.

Tyler Birr loves being on the field.

“Yeah. I like football.”

Tyler wears #87 for his favorite player.

“I picked this number because of Reggie Wayne.”

Lori Birr said her son is just like any other 7th grade boy.

“He dreams big. He dreams of being Reggie Wayne. He dreams of going to the NFL. He dreams just like any other child.”

Coach Chad Hoskins made the call to give Tyler his chance.

“He’s been out at every practice. He’s practiced all year long with us. So we thought our final game against West would be his chance to come out.”

The last play before half time Tyler ran out on the field. He got the ball and ran in a touchdown with both teams cheering for him.

Fox59 talked to Tyler after the TD.

“It was amazing.”

Lori said the game was about more than football.

“It touches my heart because he wants to be like the other children and today he got to be.”

Lori said it was a dream come true for both Tyler and her.

“It’s a day he’ll never, ever, ever forget and I wanna thank everybody.”


One Day Later: Looking Back At Father’s Day

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I always get a little ambivalent on Father’s Day.  The day itself is fine; love the breakfast and the gifts (more on that later) but as it should, gets me thinking about my father.  My father was a hard-working man, who was both there and not there.  Growing up, he was there for all my baseball and basketball games, and he took me and my sisters to his downtown Manhattan office when the ‘tall ships’ sailed into the harbor during the Bicentennial; his office had a fantastic view, located one block away from the Twin Towers.  He was there to instill into me a strong work ethic, and the black and white understanding of right and wrong.  I remember going with him on Thursday nights as he worked our parish’s BINGO games with his friends; I didn’t do much there so I wound up bringing books to read.  It was there one night where I brought 2001: A Space Odyssey to read for the first time; I remember that was the book that opened up reading in general, and science fiction in particular, to me.

He was not there to ever talk to.  We never had “the talk” about girls, he never asked me why I chose to apply to the colleges that I did, or why I chose the profession that I did.  Perhaps that was just his nature.  Growing up, my parents argued a lot; yelled and threatened to leave each other many times.  Divorce was not an option back then so living in silent angry withdrawal was an almost constant state from the time I was a teenager.  I remember learning that my family was a living definition of ‘dysfunctional’ quite early in my adolescence.

After he retired, he moved ‘back home’ to the Philippines, where he spent his time living a simpler life, I guess, until he became very ill with pneumonia.  As a disclaimer, I am a snob when it comes to things Filipino; the food’s great but the country is as backward as it is poor.  I remember when he got sick his doctors wrote to us to send his antibiotics to him.  Eventually we had to go to the Philippines and bring him back to New York.  By that time he had become a shell of the man he used to be; appearing physically smaller and his mind now ravaged by Alzheimer’s dementia.  After coming back to New York, his life was never the same; he needed someone to care for him and help with his ADLs during the day when everyone was at work, and his dietary tastes were limited so he became even more frail.  He would wander off in the neighborhood after his home attendant left.

He did get to meet my fiancee and eventual wife, and attended our wedding.  Hopefully he was able to keep some of those memories in the year or so until he passed away.  It is sad that he never got to know my children, never saw them grow up, or proverbially bounce them on his knee, never saw them achieve milestones, never slipped them a dollar on the side, never pushed them on a swing.

The fact that he is not around on Father’s Day is not lost on my sons.  As he has done on a few occasions in the past, and quite out of the blue, Mike said to me yesterday, “Dad, I’m sorry your mother and father are in heaven”.  He has previously asked me if I missed my parents, and the like. Perhaps he saw a look on my face yesterday that I had on Mother’s Day, and picked up on it; not that I think I made a face.  My son has a flair for empathy at times, which gives me great hope for his future on the Autism Spectrum.

So I got to pick out my breakfast yesterday; after Mike made me  my first cup of coffee, my wife and sons made me a wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs. Delicious!  Afterward came the cards and presents.  I received new shorts and shirts (because my kids don’t like me wearing my old, faded tank tops in public), new boat shoes (because my kids don’t like me wearing old, worn boat shoes) and a cordless circular saw (so I can build a ‘poop deck’ to hang out on, for when we’re pooped).   I got great cards, of which the highlight is:

Mike has been determined to get me or either of his brothers a new pet, ever since our beloved Golden Retriever Riley passed away earlier this year, if only to keep our other dog Cosmo company.  He asked if we wanted a lizard, baby crocodile (!!), macaw, or shark.  We settled on a fish; so later in the afternoon, we went to Petsmart, picked out a nice blue and burgundy-colored Betta fish, a new tank and some iridescent gravel.  He named him “Blenny”, a combination of Blue (from the movie “Rio”) and Lenny (I’d like to think this was from “Laverne and Shirley” but I doubt it).  Happy Father’s Day Dad!

I am truly blessed to have my family;  hopefully I have become the dad and husband every man aspires to be, present physically and emotionally when they need me to be.  I know my wife and sons have conspired to make me the man I am today, and for that I’m eternally grateful.  Last night before going to bed, I said to my oldest son, “Thank you for a nice Father’s Day”.  Usually he’ll say just say ‘you’re welcome.  Without batting an eyelash, and without prompting, he said to me, “Thanks for being my father” and gave me a hug.  It was the perfect ending to my Father’s Day.