Clarion community comes together to help a local man succeed
By Dave McClaine
Submitted to the CLARION NEWS
CLARION Clarion Area graduate Nate Datko hasn’t always had it easy. He has endured many tests and trials along life’s journey. He overcame major obstacles to achieve academic and athletic success.
He did not achieve this goal on his own. He had lots of help along the way from his parents, teachers, coaches and doctors.
At an early age Datko was diagnosed with autism and Chiari I Malformation (is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal and causes stiffness and muscle rigidity.)
This is a story of inspiration, a story of hope to other families who are facing circumstances as the Datko’s faced and a perfect example that “It Takes a Village.”
Even though Datko’s situation wasn’t optimal he has been able to work through many of the struggles involved with autism and Chiari I Malformation, to achieve much more than maybe anyone who knew his situation would have thought possible.
This disorder can look quite different in each child who has it.For Datko it meant having the inability to speak, fits of crying and screaming, due to anxiety when entering into social settings, repetitive behavior, lack of age appropriate play skills and sensory issues such as intolerance of loud sounds.
So when he attended preschool, it was quite a hurdle to overcome. The family found ways to help their son with separation anxiety and socialization skills by using his Thomas the Train toy to provide the comfort during stressful situations.
Datko’s physical limitations, thought to be due to Chiari I, were less severe although stiffness and muscle rigidity were evident from birth.
His fine motor skills were also an area of deficit, so writing, coloring and buttoning his clothes were areas of delay for Datko. His delays were severe enough, it was recommended that he have wrap around services provided.
At that point, the family wanted to learn everything about autism so they could be by his side during times he was getting the service performed. They wanted to be as involved in their son’s life as they could and make sure he accomplished everything he set out to do.
The family learned a lot from neurologists and behavioral specialists along the way in this journey. They were told “do not coddle him” and they tried to keep that in the back of their minds every step of the way. Also they were taught how to work with their son to help him reach goals and overcome his deficits.
Community pitches in to help
The Clarion community got involved in a big way and put together an autism support group. This was beneficial to the family’s learning process and emotional support.
The Datko family knew they were not in this journey alone. They had lots of support and help from the community as well as a local behavioral specialist, speech department and preschools. These professionals were crucial in Datko’s development.
The family knew they still had a lot of work ahead of them and were ready for the challenges that would present themselves.
The family spent numerous hours incorporating oral motor exercises into Nate’s daily life. They practiced activities like blowing cotton balls across a table with a straw and sucking a lollipop to help with this issue. These were the first steps toward getting him to speak.
They also worked on his physical limits, spending hours using different types of adaptive pencils and playing games that required him to use his fine motor muscles and coordination.
The next chapter of his journey was starting kindergarten. As all children, he was evaluated to see if he would need extra support during his school days. It was suggested Datko not have an Individual Education Program (IEP) or aid and there was no need to tell the teachers of his diagnosis as his deficits were barely noticeable.
Even though this would have made life easier for Datko, his mother was convinced that it would not help him in the future where those same adaptations would not exist. She knew he had potential to make it without the extra help.
Datko also became involved in sports. He did not want his disability to define him. He wanted to play baseball, football, basketball, etc. as any other normal child would do. Although, these sports were not an easy task for him, he had a lot of help from local coaches that assisted him in developing physical skills and social skills through interaction with teammates.
He not only was able to work with his teammates but he grew into an athlete that had abilities to help his team. None of that would have been possible without so many people working to help him meet and overcome his challenges. The coaches and parents took extra time and energy to make sure that whatever he attempted to do he did not fail. His fear of failure was a blessing and a curse.
Although Datko had an immeasurable amount of help from everybody, he had a lot of work to do on his own. He spent several hours at home trying to understand the daily classroom work provided by his school.
During class, he was afraid to ask questions because of his developmental delays and how his classmates would respond to them. A few teachers would offer additional assistance with their classes and that was very helpful to Datko’s success.
His academic career was full of struggles as well as his athletic. He joined many different sports groups and found physical hardships he had to overcome.
One of the physical limitations he has is that his body is rigid, which poses a problem with sports. Despite taking swimming lessons, he was never able to swim.With some perseverance and a little help he did eventually learn to swim.
Another limitation was not being able to “turn his hips.” This posed a problem with baseball. To master this obstacle, he would literally practice hitting a tire with his bat over several hours of time. He still has trouble with this task today.
Although he has overcome many struggles, he still has some obstacles to work on. He knows that he can continue to master his emotional and physical disadvantages by using the hard work and disciple he was taught by his parents, teachers, coaches and doctors throughout this whole journey.
So far in his academic career and extra-curricular activities, Datko has achieved some pretty high honors and awards such as: being listed on the honor roll or principal’s list every marking period from seventh- through 12th-grade; received President’s Academic Award; member of the National Honor Society; starting freshman on PIAA state championship baseball team 2107; KSAC first team outfielder 2019; TCS/CE second team outfielder and honorable mention 2019. As well as numerous Bobcat baseball team awards in 2019 highest slugging percent, most hits (25) and highest batting average (.417); member of the 2016 and 2019PIAA state qualifying cross country team; received Bill Grove Cross Country dedication award 2019,ninth-place overall (first in age group) at Greenway Trail Half Marathon, Ohio, (time: 1:33:11), Golden Eagle academic scholarship and many more.
He has also volunteered his time at YMCA programs, Clarion Elementary PTO, and St. Joseph’s Church in Lucinda as well as working as a dishwasher at the Wayside Inn.
In his next chapter, Datko will be starting Clarion University in the fall and majoring in speech pathology.
These accomplishments, awards, scholarships and honors are meant to be a shining example of what can be achieved when a community, parents and professionals work together toward a common goal.
Datko’s story is an inspiration to everyone not only children with disabilities. He hopes his experience will show others in challenging situations that they have an opportunity to improve their quality of life.They can reach for the stars and with a little help their dreams can come true.