The teenager stepped in front a large room full of strangers, took a breath and began to speak.
“Hello, my name is Ryan Sinkleris, and I’m here to teach you about something I have inside of me. It is called autism.”
Sinkleris, a student at Steinert High School, has high-functioning autism. He can perform everyday tasks independently with little assistance, but when it comes to communication, he struggles at times.
This fact makes what Sinkleris and his father Andrew do all the more incredible. The father-son team travel around the Hamilton Township School District giving presentations to students and staff about what life with autism is like.
The presentations overall have had a transformative effect on both Sinklerises. Early on after Sinkleris’ diagnosis, Andrew couldn’t help to ask “why us.” Now, he feels like he has the answer.
Andrew said he now knows he was meant to have a son with a challenge for the purpose of trying to make a small part of the world a better place for the kids who are struggling with a similar obstacle. Similarly, he said that Sinkleris loves presenting about autism because it makes him feel like he matters and that the kids are interested in him as a person and what he thinks.
Andrew said the presentations are a first step, and he hopes to sit down with new parents and show them what’s possible and that there is hope, even if it’s not apparent right now.
“I’d realized very young with him, that I can’t necessarily prepare him for everything in the world,” Andrew said. “I can’t prepare him for every scenario, but we can do our best to prepare the world for him.”
Sinkerlis was around 4-years old when he was diagnosed. Andrew, who works as an English teacher at Steinert High School, said that Sinkleris started changing about that time, showing different behaviors than he had in the first few years of his life.
It was hard for Andrew to accept the fact that his son had autism. He said he wished he had someone to educate him about autism at the time of Sinkleris’ diagnosis.
This is why he wants to educate all different ages on autism, and he believes they will have a different outlook once they’ve seen Sinkleris and heard what he has to say.
The presentation is packed with information such as how Sinkleris processes the senses and his need for glasses because of restricted peripheral vision.
The four zones of communication are discussed, a tool that helps Sinkleris and other people with autism express feelings in certain situations. The green zone is when Sinkleris is doing good, the yellow zone is a warning for when something bad is going to happen, the red zone is a meltdown, and the blue zone is sadness. By stating the zone that Sinkleris is in, people are able to understand how he feels at that point in time and give him the help that he needs.
Another part of the presentation is when Sinkleris explains his assets, which he calls his “superpowers,” to the younger kids.
One of his “superpowers” is the ability to memorize and recite an entire episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants. This is Sinkleris’ favorite part of the presentation, and the kids love it as well.
Andrew said he hopes that after the presentation kids think of Sinkleris when they hear the word “autism.” He wants people to learn all about autism and put a face to the name, so they won’t be afraid to go up to someone with autism and introduce themselves.
“So if at a younger age kids connect with their peers, if their friends are more empathetic, then it’ll make it a less lonely world for them,” Sinkleris said.
University Heights Elementary and Robinson Elementary School are two schools in Hamilton that the Sinklerises have visited.
Robinson Elementary principal Kelli Eppley said that the presentation definitely influenced her students, and some of them even had the inspiration to stand up and said they had autism, too.
Eppley said the presentation was very appropriate and kept the kids interested. She explained that the kids who don’t have autism are now more aware and can help guide the others.
“Mr. Sinkleris was my high school teacher, and it was great to see him in the capacity of being a dad.” Eppley said. “The work that they’re doing is very meaningful, and I think it was nice to see.”
The principal of University Heights Elementary, Suzanne Diszler, was also touched by the presentation. University Heights was the first school in Hamilton the Sinklerises visited, so it was very special to them.
”We always enforce here, at University Heights, that everybody’s different and everybody has differences and for it to come from another student, really meant a lot to our kids to see like, hey, I can do that, I can be Ryan and I can get up there and do an assembly one day,” Diszler said. “They gave him somebody to look up to. So, it was a lot of fun.”