Every weekday is the same for Ethan Moore.
The 14-year-old Wrightsville boy wakes up, spends a little time hanging out with his mom, and then he starts his schoolwork.
It isn’t an unusual ritual for many teens, but for Ethan, he struggled with the loud sounds of classmates talking and the fast-paced environment focused on standardized testing.
This made sense to his mother, Christine Moore, because Ethan was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 3.
“When he first started with public school, it was good,” Moore said. “Then they mainstreamed him. He was alone a lot. At lunch time he was on his own.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Asperger’s syndrome is a high functioning form of autism. Kids with Asperger’s might be socially awkward, have rituals they do every time they do something or have one of the many other symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder.
Some of the quirks Moore noted of her son were his obsession with Legos and his need to have the same foods every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
April is Autism Awareness Month, a month to educate others and celebrate those with the disability. Kids and adults like Ethan spend time at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, which has offices throughout south-central Pennsylvania, to get therapy and work on life skills.
Cyber school: Because Ethan was a little different than his classmates, Moore said, he was picked on by kids. By the time he reached eighth grade, the bullying had gotten worse. The stress of taking tests had gotten to Ethan, too. The teen stopped eating entirely.
“He was internalizing all the stress from it,” Moore said. “He went from 92 pounds to 81 in a week. He was shutting down on me.”
After talking with his doctor and his therapist, Moore decided it would be best for Ethan to enroll in cyber school. She said he’s been getting better grades since the switch.
“He’s getting A’s and B’s now,” she said.
A whiteboard is taped to the wall with a reminder of what work needs to get done that day. “Wednesday – science, math, English, PE,” it reads. In all capital letters at the bottom of the board it reads, “NO ELECTRONICS UNTIL 3:00 EACH DAY.”
Little reminders like that are around the apartment Ethan and his mother live in. A chalkboard with reminders to wash your hair and hands sits in the bathroom.
“There are a lot of little things like that that he forgets about,” Moore said. “There was one time we went over washing the dishes. I got home from work one day and he said ‘Mom! I washed the dishes!’ I looked at them and he hadn’t used soap.
“I said good job, bud, but went over it with him again. He said ‘Oh! I knew I forgot something,’” she said and mimicked him face-palming.
Moving: A lot of the reminders have been pulled down for the family’s move down the block, though, Moore said. Moving was not something she wanted to do initially because changes can be hard for children with an autism spectrum disorder.
However, new neighbors downstairs helped Moore make the decision to move to a townhome in the same Wrightsville community.
“It breaks my heart because we were happy here,” she said, “but now we won’t have to worry about making noise for someone below us.”
Like many kids with Asperger’s, Ethan has his small obsessions. He has bins filled with hundreds of thousands of Lego blocks. The teen is working on making a stop-motion film with them.
Emotions: Ethan also has emotional hardships, another symptom of autism; he’s working through them with therapists at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Lancaster.
“I do have a bit of a short temper when things don’t go my way or how I expected,” the teen said.
This passion is being channeled into other things, though, such as art and learning more about earth sciences, he said. He is particularly passionate about exposing how bullying can affect people emotionally, physically and mentally.
“I could go on for hours about how bullying is bad,” Ethan said. “I just can’t stand bullying. I want this kind of behavior to stop.”
Perspective: Kristine Welsh-Eves is Ethan's therapist at CADD. She said she loves working not only with Ethan but all her other clients at CADD because of their world views.
"The clients I get to work with are awesome," Welsh-Eves said. "Their perspective on life is super awesome. I love getting to know the people and their families and seeing them growing and learning more things."
Despite not being in a public school, Ethan still keeps his social life going. At Leg Up Farm, he talks with other children with autism spectrum disorders. One particular girl, Zoe, has become one of his good friends.
“She’s a big-time horse rider,” Ethan said. “She and her mom have a lot of various pets.”
The two bonded over the animals and riding, Moore said.
“That’s why they’re good souls,” she said. “They don’t understand the nastiness behind some things. They’re good kids.”
Moore said it’s been hard raising her son as a single mother. She lost two jobs because she had to take care of her son’s needs.
However, she said she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I was meant to be his mom,” Moore said. “You were chosen for a reason. I’m basically his partner in crime. I’m 42, but I’m forced to see things in a much younger perspective because of him. It’s keeping me young. It’s keeping me happy.”
– Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.