We are republishing this article from the winter 2016 Spectrum in honor of National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week.
Alex Bagley has won many Special Olympics medals over the years at the county, state, and national levels. The 23-year-old from Fayetteville competes in 5-on-5 basketball, cycling, and aquatics. Alex, who has autism, is a hard worker and is dedicated to doing the best job he can, no matter whether it is housework, homework, volunteer work, or athletics, says his mother, Angela Bagley.
But it is not just hard work that has helped Alex excel. His Community Skills Instructor (CSI), Andrea Miller-Weir, has supported him for 11 years, setting goals beyond what others think is possible and helping him achieve them.
“If I had millions of dollars, it wouldn’t be enough to compensate her for her untiring efforts at making Alex the best he can be,” Bagley said. “She has tirelessly worked to ensure that he enjoys life to the fullest.”
And Alex does enjoy life! Athletics and physical fitness, which originally were challenging for him, are a major part of that life. “I couldn’t swim, play basketball, or ride a bike until I got Ms. Weir as my CSI,” Alex said. “I love working with Ms. Weir. She is nice, patient, she cares about me, and loves me. Ms. Weir is fun.”
“They can do whatever they set out to”
Weir said she began working with children with special needs as a substitute teacher in a middle school and found that she enjoyed it. “I was told I was very patient and caring with the children. So, when a job offer came my way to work with children with autism, I gladly accepted because I wanted to make a difference.”
Her mission as a CSI is “to improve the life of the person I am working with to their maximum potential, and to make them feel that they can do whatever they set out to,” she said.
Weir certainly has done that for Alex. When she met him, he wouldn’t even put his face in the water, Alex’s mom said, and now he has gold medals for swimming. Weir said, “I felt I was really making a difference when Alex rode his bike without me running behind him for fear of him falling and when he jumped in the water and swam two lengths of the pool and won the gold medal. I cried. It was his first time doing two lengths.
“I feel I am really making a difference when he says, ‘Ms. Weir, I am having fun,’ or ‘Ms. Weir, I like this!’ I look at Alex and he is happy.”
Back when Weir started working with Alex, he was having a tough time in PE with basketball, and his mom told Weir she wished he could improve. That small wish led Alex far beyond even Weir’s expectations. Weir began taking Alex to a recreation center after school every day and taught him how to dribble, throw, and shoot. Alex then joined a Special Olympics 3-on-3 basketball team for 11- to 12-year-olds, and eventually he moved on to a 5-on-5 team. “To make a long story short, his team was selected to represent the state of North Carolina in the Special Olympics national competition held in New Jersey. They even won the bronze medal in their division,” Weir said.
Working toward life goals
Now Weir is working on meaningful employment for Alex. About two years ago, she convinced a custodian to allow Alex to shadow him so he could learn his trade. Since then, Alex has done janitorial work in a couple of furniture stores. To overcome potential employers’ concerns about Alex’s capabilities, Weir created a portfolio about him and gathered letters of recommendation from previous supervisors. Weir hopes that Alex eventually will be able to work at assembling furniture.
Alex agrees that having a job is one of his top three goals in life; his others are to stay in good physical shape and to own a house. His mother hopes that he will continue to have strong faith in God and remain involved in his church. “Alex’s faith is a big part of his success,” Bagley said.
Weir said the most challenging part of her job is “getting others on board to see when I am trying to give Alex new and different experiences that are age-appropriate – wanting more for him. I ask myself, what are some things a 22-year-old would be doing? How would they be dressing? How would they be acting? What would they be participating in?”
Bagley said Weir’s complete dedication to Alex has made her like a second mother to him.
“She treats Alex as her son – she is firm where she needs to be, kind, and compassionate,” Bagley said. “As a working, divorced mom, I know that I would not have been able to provide Alex with the expertise that he’s received from Ms. Weir.
“Ms. Weir has been instrumental in reinforcing what Alex learned in preschool and at home, and she taught him skills that he would have likely taken many months, if not years, to learn. She’s taught him how to do laundry, to include sorting clothes; how to wash dishes; how to clean the bathrooms; how to dust and vacuum.
“Ms. Andrea Miller-Weir is worth more to Alex and our family than anyone can imagine.”
ASNC applauds and expresses our gratitude to all direct support professionals and annually awards the John and Claudia Roman Service Award to an outstanding ASNC direct support employee. Read more here.Tags: ASNC, autism, autism nc, autism north carolina, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, autism support, Developmental disability, direct support professional, North Carolina, Roman Award, Special Olympics