Most days after school, freshman Jonas Hetrick can be found preparing the basketball court for the Oak Harbor High School Girls Varsity Basketball team.
Coach Tom Kontak recalls that when he asked Jonas three years ago if he’d like to help out and be the team manager, the youth responded in the way he normally does – by putting his head down and nodding.
Jonas has been diagnosed with Asperger 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.
When he was a month old, doctors told Jonas’ parents Dave and Denise, that the infant was categorized as “Failure to Thrive,” 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; 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, the Hetricks turned to the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities Early Intervention program to assist with Jonas’ development.
To finally receive the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome was a relief for Dave and Denise. “Without a diagnosis, it is hard to get the services your child needs,” Denise said. “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.” A typical characteristic of Asperger’s is that the individual is not very social. This is not so for Jonas, however. He is very popular in school, likes to play basketball and soccer, and enjoys playing the baritone in the OHHS Marching Band.
Denise and Dave are relieved how well Jonas 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,” she said. “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. He is not only a good ball handler and loves to shoot three-pointers, but also has a loyal fan base that follow him from game to game to cheer him on.
Though he has his successes, Jonas also experiences challenges associated with Asperger’s. “It’s difficult to keep a consistent schedule with three other children, and keeping Jonas in the loop of what is happening and when,” Denise said. “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 added.
As for his future, Dave and Denise state their goal for Jonas is to learn life skills so he may be able to live independently and hold a job someday.
The Hetricks work closely with Jonas’ 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.
“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,” Denise said.
For more information about Asperger syndrome or services the Ottawa County Board of Developmental Disabilities offers, call 419-898-0400.
Freshman Jonas Hetrick takes his job as manager of the Oak Harbor High School Girls Varsity Basketball team very seriously, according to Coach Tom Kontak. “He places the equipment on court, helps with daily warm-ups and anywhere he is needed. He’s a great addition to our team.”