Jeremy is a kindred spirit. I photographed this towering man, “The Yeti” (his words) because I deeply resonate with his hardcore passion about advocating for children (and adults) with special needs. I asked him to write a little about his life and he took the soap box and ran with it. Jeremy, thank you for sharing your personal story here and for using your voice to empower fathers facing similar challenges.
Guest Blogger, Jeremy Crocker
My name is Jeremy Crocker and I am a stubborn, over protective, confrontational advocate and supporter of the special needs community. Some people might consider me to be a bit too sensitive and quick to anger when it comes to individuals with special needs being mocked or mistreated in any way but I’m 100% proud and unapologetic about the choice I’ve made. My journey began when my younger brother was born and diagnosed with down syndrome. I was just a young child then so I didn’t know anything about what that meant or how he would be treated in the future. I just knew he was my brother and that our family loved each other very much. Of course, my naive outlook on life began eroding as soon as I started elementary school and witnessed how kids treated those who were different than what they considered to be “normal”. I was just a chubby kid who was often outnumbered, so as you can imagine I got roughed up frequently when standing up for the children in the special education classes. It was painful and humiliating to the point that I usually tried to hide what had happened to me but I don’t regret a single second of it. My life continued down this path with all sorts of twists and turns but we don’t need to get into all of that.
Fast forward to the year 2007, when I became a father and I discovered an entire new definition for the word “love.” All of my priorities were instantly rearranged and the focal point of my universe became a tiny little human named Caden, who could melt me with his big blue eyes. After a year passed, we noticed he wasn’t passing certain developmental milestones and eventually we received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified) which is just a confusing way to let us know that our child had an autism spectrum disorder. I remember this hollow feeling crept through me as my brain refused to process the information it had just received. I became quiet and withdrawn to the point that the only person I wanted to interact with was my son, regardless of the many attempts my wife and parents made to break through to me. Eventually, I knocked down the walls and rejoined my family in the land of the living after doing some spring cleaning in my skull. It was at this time that my wife and I both focused on becoming well-informed advocates who could always fight for the best interest of our child no matter what obstacles were thrown in front of us.
As we took our first steps down the path to earning a black belt in autism parenting, it became quite clear that we had an advantage that others in our situation did not have. We had an ace up our sleeve that could lay waste to anyone who would dare deprive our son of any resources and/or opportunities that might help him reach his full developmental potential. We had a weapon so powerful that it could simultaneously teach my wife and I how to become the best possible advocates we could be and bake delicious homemade cookies at the same time! The name of this wise teacher and defender of Caden was none other than GRANDMA!!!! (Please try to imagine some dramatically ominous music playing in the background.) That’s right, my Mom had already racked up 25 years of awesomeness by being the best damn advocate she could possibly be for my brother. Our training began immediately and we took everything in as quickly as we could. After some time we started finding additional resources through local organizations, therapists, other parents, and a great new pediatrician who has been a huge part or our family’s evolution. We still try to educate ourselves more and more as we go, but we’re careful to sort out the misinformation and glorified opinions that some people in the special needs community are trying to pass off as facts. It can all get overwhelming at times, but when we step back and look at the progress our amazing little boy has made over the past four years things suddenly seem a little more manageable and our motivation levels tend to increase dramatically (we also go through a lot of coffee).
In closing, I want to make it clear that my crazy little family wouldn’t be where we are today without an amazing support system consisting of family, friends, teachers, therapists, doctors, fellow parents, etc. We are beyond grateful to everyone who has helped our son along the way and look forward to meeting new additions to “Team Caden” as we continue to roll with the punches and celebrate every victory no matter how big or small. My wife and I would also like to let everyone out there know that parents of kids with special needs are not something to fear or feel awkward around. We may seem a little disheveled and sleep deprived at times but we enjoy having “grown up time” as much as any other parent. Just because we have different stories and experiences than most parents doesn’t mean we can’t find some common ground to agree on. All we’re looking for is some acceptance and inclusion for our children so they can have some of the same childhood experiences that so many kids take for granted every single day. We are a loving bunch of folks to anyone who is decent and respectful to us and our children. Of course, on the flip side, if anyone ever messes with a child who has special needs (especially MY child) then they’d better run like hell because we will tear them apart and then go out for ice cream when we’re done. I dream of the day when the special needs community unites under one banner instead of splintering off into “the autism group” or “the down syndrome group”. If we could all work together with minimal bickering and just stick to the basics of what we all want for our kids, we could accomplish more than any of us have achieved up to this point. Maybe I’m just developing a brand new naive outlook on life, but I really like the way it looks in my imagination and it’s going to take more than some schoolyard bullies to make this one erode away.