• Mary Bailey

A Champion for Greater Opportunity, Independence, and Personal Fulfillment

Warm, spring Saturday afternoons are generally set aside for doing those things that bring us joy and a sense of well-being. For Erik Weber, that means running races and breaking records. While Erik generally prefers marathons to track meets, he brings the same high-intensity focus and drive-to-win to both arenas. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Erik and his Team Skybirds dominated the Point Loma Nazarene University Special Olympics track meet where Erik ran in 4 events and personally broke three PLNU meet records in the 5K, 1500m, and the 400m. His Team Skybirds were also victorious in the 4x100 relay. Victory is the primary theme throughout all facets of Erik’s life. Diagnosed with autism as a toddler, doctors said that his brain would not develop past that of an 18-month-old. But Erik defied all the odds, demolishing every doubt and negative report that was thrown his way. His parents developed and implemented methods of instruction and therapies that spoke to Erik’s particular way of learning, his specific needs, and the ways in which he experiences the world. He learned to speak by the age of seven, became a championship runner, is the first person with autism to earn a law degree from California Western School of Law, and is their first student to pass the Bar exam on the first attempt. With a confident and contagious smile, and a dynamic yet down-to-earth personality, it seems Erik was destined to be the motivational speaker that he is today, inspiring and educating others about how to successfully navigate through the journey of achieving their own personal victories, while living with autism and other special needs.

On the road to victory, Erik is adept at partnering vision and optimism with effective strategy and execution; and he teaches others to do the same, empowering them to be more independent. Erik defines independence as the ability and opportunity to use critical thinking, make educated decisions, and take the corresponding actions. On the subject of helping those with autism prepare for the transition into college, adulthood, and the workforce he provides clear action steps. Erik emphasizes that the keys to success are early planning, and knowing and utilizing all resources and rights available. While an IEP is required to have a transition plan in effect at age 16, Erik says, “My advice is to form a transition plan earlier, during middle school.” Concerning IEP’s, Erik further advises that parents should know their rights, and take time to review and think before signing an IEP. “You have the right to audio record the IEP meeting as long as you give written notice 24 hours in advance,” instructs Erik. “You do not have to give consent to the IEP on the spot. You have the right to take the IEP home with you to review, and come up with goals and concerns you would like to have added to the IEP document."

He also advises taking aptitude tests in high school to assess potential professions and areas of interest if these haven’t already been determined. Additionally, it is essential that students identify what learning strategies work best for them; and establish a routine that keeps the mind-body-work-recreation aspects one’s life balanced. However, be willing to make adjustments when necessary. For Erik, activities like memorizing comedy monologues, running, Zumba, spending time with family and friends, and cooking up delicious meals are things that have helped him remain well-rounded, sharp, and energized. His dedication to mind-body balance was maintained even on the day of his Bar Exam! “Between the morning and afternoon sessions during the Bar Exam, I danced Zumba to my own playlist at the hotel’s fitness center.”

When entering college, Erik encourages these practical steps to ensure greater success, and minimize and manage inevitable challenges:

  • Find an academic counselor you trust to guide you on course selections for your major and transferable units.

  • Sign an academic release allowing your parent(s) or other primary support person(s) to get information about your academic career so they can help monitor potential issues.

  • Introduce yourself to your instructors prior to the beginning of a session or on the first day of classes so they know you and your circumstances.

  • Utilize test accommodations! Do NOT think of them as unfair advantages. Accommodations (e.g. extended test time, use of a computer, circle answers [for people with dysgraphia (slow handwriting)], and semi-private testing room) are tools that help you access and demonstrate your knowledge.

  • Consider study groups to experience different ways of analyzing material.

Whether through private consulting or his many speaking engagements, Erik’s expertise in special education law provides students and parents with the added support, hope, and confidence necessary to achieve goals and conquer the overwhelming maze of details, resources, rights, and daily challenges. His future endeavors include a legal position helping individuals with special needs; establishing his own legal consulting firm in conjunction with his motivational speaking; competing in track meets and marathons including the Encinitas Half Marathon, and USA Masters Games (Track & Field and Road Race); and even attending the 2018 Daytona 500! Erik’s exuberance for life, profound sense of purpose, and concern for his fellow man indicate that his impact on the special needs community and inclusion, is just beginning.

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