My development began normally until 18 months, when I began to rapidly regress, losing the ability to communicate words I had previously learned and ceasing to have eye contact. As I entered kindergarten, the school specialists labeled me as emotionally impaired. My mom refused this label and told the professionals, “My son’s disability is not emotional but neurological.” She diligently researched the top professionals in learning disabilities and paid to have me tested. Neuropsychologist Dr. Dotto confirmed that my disability was neurological.
Every night my mom and dad helped me with life skills. My mom used my special interest in prairie dogs to make learning fun. Through my parents’ care and diligence, by eighth grade I was in mainstream education.
In the spring of 1994, my parents and I finally reached a roadblock beyond our control. During my junior year of high school, my life was on the right track. I made the honor roll two straight semesters, was a star athlete in track, and memorized over 2,000 Scriptures.
In the spring of 1994, our 3,200 meter relay team finished 12th in the State of Michigan. As we drove back from the state final, Nate, the anchor on our relay, commented to Coach Budd, “Next year we could be the fastest 3,200 relay but Ron will be past the age requirement!”
I heard God’s gentle voice speak to my heart, “I will make a way for you.”
I said, “God will provide a way for me to compete.”
I was past the MHSAA age requirement by three months because I had repeated kindergarten due to autism. My family prayed daily for a miracle. In May of 1994, as my senior year quickly approached, my mom contacted the MHSAA and they stated, “Due to your son being past the age requirement we will not allow him to compete!” My parents contacted attorneys and learned that a lawsuit would cost over $40,000.
As the cross-country season drew near, the circumstances seemed hopeless. My mom told me, “There’s nothing we can do now but pray.” In June 1994, I returned from a five mile run and grabbed the Detroit Free Press. I saw on the front page an article about Craig Stanley, a fellow athlete past the age requirement. Our situations were remarkably similar. We both were born in May 1975; each of us repeated early elementary grades; we were both cross-country and track runners. My mom immediately contacted his family. Our families met and we joined forces in advocating.
After I rededicated my life to following Christ, I felt a desire to be re-baptized to demonstrate my commitment. I was baptized at nine-months-old. The day I was baptized, I said my first word, “Mom.”
On Sunday June 10, 1994, I was baptized by Pastor Rob. As Pastor Rob lifted me from the water, he said, “I feel this verse is for you. Joel 2:25, ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten- the great locust and young locust, the other locust and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.’ Your blessings will begin today.”
When I got home and checked the red flashing answering machine, I had an unexpected message from attorney Rick Landau stating, “I believe your case will set precedent for the American Disabilities Act and I want to represent you pro bono.”
On August 25, 1994, just six hours before my first cross-country meet, U.S. District Court Judge Feikens granted a temporary restraining order to allow Craig and me to participate in cross-country and track. Twenty days later, Judge Feikens instated a permanent injunction allowing us to compete for the rest of the season.
Our 3,200 relay team set the school record and ran the second fastest time out of 182 teams. During this season, I felt a call to be a minister. Michigan Christian College, now Rochester College, gave me an athletic scholarship for cross-country and track. I finished my freshman year making the Dean’s List and received an academic scholarship to Oral Roberts University. Six years later, I graduated with a Master of Divinity with highest honors.
On April 5, Charisma House, a national publisher, is publishing my book A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom. In writing the book, I interviewed over 40 experts in the autism community and over 40 parents who have a child with autism. I have founded a non-profit which creates autism awareness in churches and schools.
I am living my dream working as a professor of theology and in the medical field and married to a beautiful wife.