Parents of a child on the autism spectrum understand the importance and difficulty of keeping their child engaged with the world around them. Kurt Janicki, the father of an autistic child, was struggling with his son’s tendency to disconnect and drift away from the present moment. Mr. Janicki was looking for ways to get his son to interact with his surroundings and he couldn’t have imagined an answer to his dreams would come in the sport of wrestling. The unexpected life-changing event took place when his son, Erik Janicki, was watching the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament. It was right in that moment that he realized he wanted to participate in his high school’s wrestling program. Ever since, Erik has been connected to the world thanks to his passionate interest in the sport.
“If you let him, his world would close in on him. If you don’t keep him connected to the world around him, he would close in on himself in a heartbeat, and he would continue to do that.”, said Mr. Janicki. The ease in which Erik retreats back into his shell is what has made his discovery of wrestling that much more significant. He’s now known to be “Coach Erik” within his teammates and his involvement in the sport has given him an opportunity to better himself. As one of the coaches, Erik’s responsibilities include helping the head coach run practices and delivering motivational speeches to the team before their scheduled meets.
Erik’s father participated in the same high school’s wrestling program back in the 1980’s and he was able to reach the Middlesex County Wrestling Tournament. “The thing about wrestling – you know how personal and emotional it can be – and Erik watches the journey that each one of these young men takes. He connects with them, and he’s emotionally invested in it”, explained Kurt Janicki. He was pleased, even shocked, by the offer of South River head coach Bobby Young to integrate Erik into the team by making him a coach. He thought his son was going to be on the sidelines and was gratifyingly surprised to see he truly was going to form an integral part of the experience.
Erik’s parents look forward to a future where he can continue to thrive and grow as a person. His involvement and excitement as one of the wrestling coaches have installed a positive outlook into his transition to adulthood. They hope to continue to bring down the barrier that sometimes blocks their son from interacting independently with the world but remain optimistic. Mr. Janicki has some inspiring words of advice to other parents with children on the autism spectrum. He says, “They are wonderful gifts in your life. Don’t hide them from the world. Take time to let them teach you about yourself and about them.”
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By Edgar Catasus