By Aubrey Gutierrez, Work Experience Trainer
In and out of foster homes, undiagnosed, and then misdiagnosed. Those words describe Tyler Harper’s early childhood years. But, at nearly 5 years old, Tyler found a family in 2007, complete with a SpongeBob SquarePants-themed bedroom all his own.
And everyone lived happily ever after, the end, right? Hardly.
Based on a nonverbal IQ test conducted when Tyler was in preschool, he was placed in a regular kindergarten classroom but left each day with a resource teacher to go to a smaller group setting. It wasn’t long before Tyler began exhibiting disruptive, sometimes angry, behavior. Shorter still was the time it took before the school removed Tyler from the classroom and recommended his parents find a more appropriate school placement.
The following year, when Tyler was 6, he was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary, repetitive movements and vocalizations — which perfectly describes the disruptive behavior Tyler had exhibited in class.
Tyler also transitioned to a behavior disorder classroom that year, and his teacher became an integral part of his IEP. Later in the school year, Tyler was again evaluated, but this IQ test wasn’t nonverbal. At a meeting with the school’s multidisciplinary team, Tyler’s parents, Tara and Nate, learned that he has an intellectual disability that was previously undetected.
With this discovery, the multidisciplinary team referred Tyler to an alternative curriculum program, or ACP — another transition for a child who needed consistency.
Transitioning to an ACP classroom was better for Tyler, but there were still a lot of changes, which became overwhelming for him and increased the incidence of his anger and behavioral issues.
Tension increased in the Harper home as Tyler’s behavior continued to worsen, and, with respite workers nearly impossible to find, Tara and Nate couldn’t get away together, even for an hour or two.
Tara sought help from schools, therapists, doctors, state agencies, and many others, but she didn’t get the help Tyler needed until she and Nate relinquished their parental rights when Tyler was 9. At that time, Tyler was placed in the foster home of a young woman who became one of his strongest allies.
The next several years weren’t easy, but Tara, Nate, and Tyler’s foster mom have created a strong support system for Tyler. Now in his school’s transition program, Tyler came to Goodwill Omaha’s Work Experience program last summer, after he and a friend toured our Blair location. Tyler said he wanted to get into Work Experience to learn job skills.
“I met Aubrey, my Goodwill Work Experience trainer,” Tyler said. “She taught me how to sort everything, take back defective items, and do new things, like inventory tracking, so I would be able to learn quicker in future jobs.”
Goodwill Omaha, APEX Family Care, partnering organizations, and professionals in the supported employment fields are delighted to see what the future holds for our programs and finding the perfect employment opportunity for our participants.
As a Work Experience trainer, I can proudly say that I believe in the power of work and hard work, and, like Tyler Harper, I am Goodwill.