by Becky GINOS
KAYSVILLE—For 9-year-old Reagan Scheurer, making a friend was a major milestone. That might not seem unusual for other children but Scheurer is autistic.
“She was in a main stream classroom for kindergarten, first grade and one month of second grade,” said her mother Brooke Scheurer. “Reagan has high anxiety and being in a setting with a lot of kids was so hard on her. She would have emotional meltdowns daily. It’s so hard to get regular phone calls about your child’s poor behavior.”
During her second grade year, Reagan was put into the Learning Center for Davis School District. Her teacher, Sandy Essler made all the difference, said Brooke. “She helped Reagan shine. What a difference it was for me to receive a phone call telling me that Reagan was receiving an award. It was a total 180.”
Reagan recently won the “Yes, I Can” award from the Council for Exceptional Children. She was selected as one of only three from Utah.
“It’s one of the premier organizations in the world,” said Shirley Dawson, co-legislative action network coordinator for Utah. “We advocate for children and families with exceptionalities and offer help with education and employment. It’s also for gifted children as well as special needs.”
The “Yes, I Can” award is for significant growth in showing how they outshine or have overcome what makes them different to achieve their dreams, goals or whatever they set in mind for themselves, said Dawson. Teachers or the council, etc. submit nominations each year.
“Reagan won for independent living because she made a friend,” Dawson said. “When we think of independent living we think of older people moving on. But it’s also the ability to reach out beyond yourself in a social aspect. We take for granted making and keeping a friend. Friendship and social skills are the basis of our lives for going forth and doing other things.”
That is the first step on the path toward independence, she said. “When you’re 9 and you’ve made your first friend you should be congratulated. Independent living is learning from others as well.”
Reagan’s friend is another 9-year-old, Lauren Arnesen. “They met at school,” said Lauren’s mother Amy. “She (Lauren) has special needs also. There are only two girls in the classroom so they kind of gravitated to each other.”
Lauren has a rare genetic condition called Bardet-Biedl syndrome. “Their disabilities are quite different,” said Amy. “They just really connected. Lauren loves Reagan for who she is. She just loves people. Sometimes she gets overwhelmed too and needs space but she’s not judgmental. She doesn’t see people like we see people.”
Brooke has noticed a difference in Reagan since finding a friend and receiving the award. “It has been interesting to see other positive changes in Reagan,” she said. “Reagan is nearly 10 years old and she has never dressed herself. (It is common for autistic children to have poor fine motor skills, making it difficult to button/zip clothing). But in the weeks prior to the assembly (where she got the award) Reagan started dressing herself every morning and getting herself breakfast. The first morning that it happened you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was tickled pink.”
Reagan’s nomination now goes to the national level and Brooke attributes much of her success to her teacher. “Mrs. Essler helps a classroom full of special-needs children achieve their full potential,” said Brooke. “Every time I have driven past the school (Columbia Elementary), whether it be before school starts or long after school is over, Mrs. Essler’s car has been in the parking lot. Never fail. That woman works harder than any other public school teacher I have ever met. She is nurturing some of the most difficult children in the school system and she does it with a smile.”
In the meantime, Amy is grateful that Lauren found Reagan too. “She doesn’t have a lot of friends either,” said Amy. “It’s a special thing when it’s hard for these girls to find someone who will just accept them for who they are. It’s a cute little friendship.”