Maxim wasn’t diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder until elementary school, but his struggles began long before that. Maxim’s dad, Cristophe, says that Maxim began regressing when he was 4. “He became less verbal, could not follow directions, and didn’t function like other children his age. He was a nightmare for his early teachers because they were not trained to handle children with behavioral issues.” Even once Maxim was placed in a public elementary school program for children with autism, his problems persisted. His parents worried the program wasn’t the right fit, and those fears were confirmed two months later when Maxim ran away from school—and toward traffic.
After that terrifying day, the county offered Maxim a nonpublic school placement to better fulfill his individual educational plan. He interviewed with several schools and ultimately chose Sheppard Pratt School in Rockville, where he enrolled in the sixth grade. “I didn’t do well in public school,” Maxim says. “I felt like [Sheppard Pratt] was a better place for me.” During the school day, Maxim received individual and group therapy, which Maxim remembers supported him when he had problems with classmates and schoolwork. “The Sheppard Pratt staff and curriculum helped me to identify right from wrong,” Maxim says. “I learned to work things out without getting angry. I was able to stop getting easily offended, and I could move on from difficult things more quickly. I learned to stay positive, and when I moved up to high school, I was able to adapt to that change positively. I had my ups and downs but was always able to do my best.”
Mark Hajjar, education director at Sheppard Pratt School in Rockville, recalls that the school was a home away from home for Maxim. “He loved coming to school every day and was eager to participate in all our school activities, including performing “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker at one of our annual talent shows,” he says.
Cristophe remembers the gradual but profound change that took place during those years. “It was a long road to hope,” he says. “No single event changed Maxim, but his progression in the right direction on all fronts was what eventually convinced us that [Sheppard Pratt] had been the right choice. At 15, he started liking school. Suddenly he couldn’t wait to get on the bus. By the time he graduated, he didn’t want to leave. He insisted on being the last one to give his graduation speech.”
From passion to profession
“Graduating from high school wasn’t easy, but my journey has been very successful since then,” Maxim says. His dad remembers that his concerns about his future had been eased by the time Maxim left high school. “The expectation was that he would continue to grow, learn a trade, and eventually find a full-time job,” Cristophe says. And that is just what happened.
After successfully earning his high school diploma, he held a job at a restaurant for 2 1/2 years and learned basic mechanics at the same time. He’s now headed into year three as an auto technician.
Maxim had always been interested in auto mechanics. Conchita King, transition coordinator at Sheppard Pratt School in Rockville, remembers: “He loved cars and fixing them up, and he never hesitated to chat up a staff member about that.” The school’s vocational programs encouraged him to pursue his passion. After graduation, he attended a trade school, the Workforce and Technology Center in Baltimore. Eventually, a local repair shop hired him as a full-time auto technician.
“I really like my job,” Maxim says. “A typical day is putting away tires that were just delivered; changing tires, oil, and batteries on cars that come in; and getting it all done right and efficiently. And I learn new things all the time. It’s a great job. I’m helping people by servicing their cars.”
And, he adds, he was able to customize his own prized possession himself: his bright red Chevy Silverado.
Looking toward tomorrow
Maxim credits his success as an adult to the many ways he grew as a student at Sheppard Pratt School in Rockville. “I learned to identify and solve a problem, which is useful at work. I learned to make friends and to control my emotions,” he says. “For example, if my boss isn’t happy, I have to stay calm. I don’t want to make things worse!
“The training from trade school has paid off, and my years at the Sheppard Pratt School have prepared me to move up in the world. I feel good about where I am.”
Cristophe says Maxim’s life is unfolding positively. “He has a happy demeanor and is optimistic,” he says. “He’s more and more able to manage all aspects of his life, and he’s very good with his finances. He has a core group of good friends from school. Big picture, I envision that Maxim will be a successful, independent adult, both in his work life and private life. ”
Maxim is looking forward to the next big step—moving out on his own within the next year. And, Cristophe adds, “I’m confident he will be successful in that, too.”