It’s about family involvement


William recites years of baseball stats without hesitation; he’s a whiz with computers, an avid reader, and his knowledge of facts and trivia is astounding. He graduated in May from Lone Oak High School with a gold honors cord around his neck. Yet every-day tasks and activities that are routine for most teenagers can be daunting for him. Diagnosed with autism at age three, William Durbin has overcome challenges that most students never have to face. William’s parents, John and Rudina Durbin, knew there was something unusual about William from an early age.

“Being our third child, we could see that he was different,” says Rudina. “There was no eye contact, and he spoke in
single words; there was no reciprocal speech.” Autism is generally defined as a neural development disorder, characterized
by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior, all of which begin before
a child is three years old. The Durbins received William’s diagnosis of autism in 1995, and at that time, there was little information available on the subject. “When William was diagnosed, there was nothing in the library,” explains Rudina. “You typed in ‘autism’ and maybe one book came up.”

Rudina and John set out to change that. They worked with the United Way and an Autism Support Group to get books and DVDs on the subject of autism in the McCracken County Public Library so information would be available for others. They researched autism and shared information with William’s teachers, and they worked tirelessly with William.

“William’s success is due to Rudina,” says Terri Wehmeyer, who was William’s caseload manager throughout his four years at Lone Oak High School. “It’s about family involvement.” In explaining William’s accomplishments, Rudina refers to the saying, “It takes a village.” She praises his teachers, aides, and specialists, including those at Hendron-Lone Oak Elementary, Lone Oak Middle and High schools, and at the Paducah Area Technology Center, where William took computer classes and hopes to continue studying towards CISCO certification.

In addition to his school curriculum, William took piano lessons for years from Ms. Retta Folsom. She watched him grow from a young child into a young man. At first not knowing how William would fare in piano lessons, Ms. Retta and Rudina decided to give it a try and see what would happen. William excelled. “The discipline and self-esteem he gained from piano were very good for him,” says Rudina. “He could be having a terrible week, but he’d go to piano and have a wonderful piano lesson.”

His teachers and parents agree there were challenges along the way, but by working together, they were able to help William overcome many stumbling blocks and continue to progress. “We went through growing pains together,” says Terri.

Unlike many children with autism, William doesn’t retreat from social interaction. “He’s always been very social, so we put him with other kids every chance we could. William doesn’t have the communication barriers that many kids with autism have,” explains Rebecca Pope, who served as William’s resource teacher in the later elementary grades and helped him transition to middle school. “Where many students (with autism) pull away, William pushed forward.”

Lorie Fick, William’s early elementary teacher at Hendron-Lone Oak, says it’s rewarding to see how far William has come. “It’s gratifying to think we had a part in William getting where he is today.”

The exact course of William’s future is uncertain, but the hope is that “he can live independently, and that he can have a job and a bank account,” says Rudina. “He needs to be self-sufficient.”

Those who have worked closely with William are confident of his success. “William is a blessing,” says Terri. “He changes your life. He shows how people with a disability can be just fine in life.”