In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of the six achievers we will be honoring at our Expect Success: Celebrating Achievers gala on April 25. Our achievers are people with disabilities who have excelled in the arts, classroom, business world, and beyond. You can follow along with these stories right here.
Communicating has been a struggle for Helen Coppenrath her whole life. Helen, a 14-year-old with autism, often speaks in a more reactive way, commenting on her emotions more than anything. She struggled to take care of herself, and her behavior grew increasingly aggressive. Upon enrolling in the Higashi School, however, things began to change, as one important outlet was added to her life: music.
Ever since Helen took up music, her language abilities have grown. She has quickly established herself as quite the virtuoso: she has perfect pitch, and she can play the flute, piano, and alto saxophone – the latter of which she learned in one month. As part of her saxophone education, she takes lessons with a professional saxophone player. To the amazement of her mother, Julie, Helen is able to play along perfectly with the professionally trained tutor. At one point, the tutor informed Julie that a certain set of lessons would take two years for Helen to learn fully. But two months later, she had learned everything.
Within a month and a half of learning the saxophone, Helen was already performing solos – and performing is one of her absolute favorite things to do. As if her musical prowess weren’t already impressive enough on its own, Helen’s extraordinary skills and achievements have extended into other fields as well. She is an excellent chef, able to replicate recipes after seeing them only once or twice. Helen is also an expert downhill skier, with a real knack for sports in general. In addition, she taught herself both how to read and how to use the computer to solve her own problems, consulting phonics instructional websites for reading comprehension help and YouTube when she has a medical question.
Over time, through her own self-determination, she has worked to improve some of her behavioral issues. A naturally picky eater, Helen has begun to be willing to try a food at least once, even if she finds herself feeling disgusted by it. She has also been working for five years on her struggles with aggression – and were it not for these issues, she would be able to fully integrate into a typical classroom. She does not allow herself to feel bogged down by this, however; rather, no matter how daunting any task may seem, she perseveres – because she likes to be the best at all that she can do, and takes pride in all that she has accomplished.
Julie is the Co-Teacher Coordinator for The Arc’s Operation House Call (OHC) program. The Coppenraths have seen firsthand just how OHC is paving the way to a future in which there is a greater level of understanding in the medical field for people like Helen. With the ultimate goals for Helen’s future including success in whatever makes her happiest, increased understanding and acceptance in all areas of life are well worth striving for.
Written by Katerina Daley, Development and Digital Media Associate
The Arc of Massachusetts 2018 gala, Expect Success: Celebrating Achievers, will be held on April 25. To learn more, purchase tickets, or become a sponsor, please visit the official gala webpage.