Asperger syndrome doesn't stop Red Bank's Ethan Steele

Asperger syndrome doesn't stop Red Bank's Ethan Steele

September 2nd, 2016 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps
Red Bank senior linebacker Ethan Steele is a team captain who is also a leader for the school's ROTC program.

Red Bank senior linebacker Ethan Steele is a...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Not alone

Famous people speculated to have had Asperger’s syndrome (from disabled-world.com):

Thomas Edison, U.S. inventor

Albert Einstein, German-American theoretical physicist

Benjamin Frankin, U.S. politician, writer

Henry Ford, U.S. industrialist

Bill Gates, leader in personal computer revolution

Al Gore, former U.S. vice president

Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets

Howard Hughes, U.S. billionaire

Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president

Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch painter

Robin Williams, U.S. actor

Ethan Steele became an Eagle Scout at 14 years old. He's a platoon commander in the Army ROTC at Red Bank, an above-average student with a girlfriend, a starting linebacker on Friday nights.

He's like so many high school kids, but few of his classmates and teammates know the senior has Asperger's syndrome.

"I'm sure it affects me in some ways, but I don't know a whole lot about it," Steele said. "I know I have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). I've been tested for that, too, and I used to take medication for it."

It's nothing he has purposely tried to hide. It's part of his makeup, and he has taken it for such and learned to work through it and exist with if not conquer it.

Asperger's is defined as a developmental disorder characterized by degrees of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive thought and behavioral patterns.

"Asperger kids can be quirky, but sometimes I think Ethan doesn't really realize he has it," said his mother, Kim Steele. "We never really sat down and explained it to him. We didn't want him to be afraid or to use it as a crutch or an excuse."

What Kim and Scott Steele, Ethan's father, did was keep their son in environments where he was forced to communicate and digress from comfortable patterns. He played soccer and baseball and was in the band.

"We used sports and activities to help him improve with his social skills, but we try to accommodate him by not flipping schedules around," she said. "The biggest thing a lot of times for him is adhering to a schedule."

When he played baseball, he found ways to cope with what he considered an uncomfortable situation. He held his tongue with his fingers.

"He never wanted to be at the center of attention," Steve recalled. "He was so concerned about being out in the open and being seen or recognized. He didn't mind being on the team, but he didn't want that starring role."

And there were times when homework that might take other students 20 minutes occupied Ethan for two hours. His parents agonized but allowed him to stand on his own.

"For the most part he pushed himself through, and we helped as we could," Steve said. "We always wanted him to do it on his own. He's not always going to be at home. He's going to be a man out on his own."

Boy Scouts helped tremendously.

"I think he felt he was part of something he really enjoyed. He could socialize. He felt part of a brotherhood. He chose to do it because he wanted," Steve said. "It's the same with football. He has stuck with it through four years, and when he gets on the field he's amazingly focused.

"For a 17-year-old with Asperger's, he's doing pretty well. He's helping lead the team and serving as one of the captains. I couldn't be prouder."

Ethan goes into a zone at times, especially when concentrating in school, plowing through homework or watching film with the football team.

"Asperger's is more about the individual and certain characteristics students will show," said Red Bank defensive coordinator Charles Weems, who also happens to be special education department head at Hixson High School.

"As a coach and teacher, you have to learn how those students learn best and what triggers those learning tools, but Ethan's done everything we've asked. He's one of those kids we can count on to do what he's supposed to when he's supposed to and how he's supposed to."

Asperger's may make those who live with it different from others, but it's something everybody can try to understand.

"There are kids who have these conditions, but there are other kids out there who are working hard to do what they need to do and trying to do the best job they can," Steve said. "It's one of those things, unless you walk a mile in their shoes, it's best just to be thankful for the blessings you have and not worry about what somebody else is struggling with."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.