Ben Schneider was one-and-a-half years old when his parents started questioning the way he would act. The mammoth temper tantrums; the echolalia (communicating by repeating what was just said); the impressive, yet eccentric behavior - being able to phonetically put the alphabet in order before the age of two, and an ability to learn flash cards at a fast rate.
“There were things that he was really, really good at, but he wasn’t communicating with us,” said Traci Schneider, Ben’s mother and the wife of Seahawks general manager John Schneider. “He wasn’t responding when other people were talking to him. He wouldn’t respond to us when we would talk to him. He wouldn’t want to play with us very much. He just wasn’t connecting.”
That lack of connection with their son left Traci and John searching for answers. They were told by Ben’s pediatrician that he was fine. They were told that he was a boy and that as such, he was going to develop a little later.
“They didn’t think there was anything wrong,” Traci said. “Then they offered parenting classes to me because apparently I didn’t know what I was doing.”
At the time, John was working in the personnel department with the Green Bay Packers. Desperate for answers, Traci took some time to seek advice from the team’s psychologist.
“I told the psychologist, ‘I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know where else to go. What do you think is going on?’” Traci said. “She was the one that really got us on the path to getting the referrals to get Ben seen by someone who could make an actual diagnosis.”
When Ben turned three years old he was seen by a group of pediatric psychologists and neurologists for testing. That day, Ben was not able to cooperate with the healthcare professionals and had trouble completing the testing they had laid out for him.
“Before we left they looked at me and told me he had autism,” Traci said. “There was absolutely no question in their mind. With 100 percent confidence they looked at me and said, ‘Yes, Ben has autism.’”
Autism is a developmental disorder of children that is characterized by impaired social interaction, communication, and emotional detachment. It is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
Upon hearing the news, frustration set in for Traci and John. For a year-and-a-half they had been given the run-around by physicians. For a year-and-a-half they did not know what was wrong when their son.
“When you finally get that diagnosis, it’s devastating to learn that there’s something seriously wrong with your child, something that he will more than likely have for the rest of his life,” Traci said. “And to think of all the things, all of the hurdles that you have ahead of you.
“But on the other hand, for a year-and-a-half we struggled, and we didn’t know. Not knowing is worse than knowing.”
After the initial shock of diagnosis, the Schneider’s got to work. Ben started applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy that consisted of 35 hours a week in their home. A team of five healthcare professionals would work with Ben on a day-to-day basis. Ben had speech therapy sessions outside of the house, occupational therapy sessions, and when he was old enough he started participating in social groups with a qualified therapist.
“John and I are of the same mindset where we were heartbroken and devastated for about a day, and then we kind of got to the point where it was like, ‘All right, now what do we do?’
“Ben was a very busy kid.”
The sessions and treatment come with a price tag. Treatment and medical care for a child with autism can cost $60,000 a year on average, which is less than five-percent of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood disorders.
Eight years since his diagnosis, Ben is now 11 years old and is mainstreamed in a fifth grade classroom. He is able to associate among his peers with general education support. He loves video games, he loves to read, and he loves to play with other kids. At the top of Ben’s list of hobbies are Legos, having recently completed a large model “Death Star” from the Star Wars movies.
“He loves to build,” Traci said. “John and I do not get involved with his Lego building. It just messes him up. He’s extremely impressive with what he can put together.
“I’ve had people tell me that if they met him now and they didn’t know he had autism, they would look at him as an 11-year-old that’s a little quirky,” Traci continued. “He’s good, but it’s hard. He does have quite a few things that he’s working on overcoming.”
Prime Time: A Spirited Celebrity Waiter Event
On April 18, during autism awareness month, Traci and John Schneider will host the second Prime Time: A Spirited Celebrity Waiter Event. The Schneider’s will partner with Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT), the Seahawks Women’s Association, and the Seattle Seahawks to help raise money for Ben’s Fund - a program that provides grant opportunities and helps cover costs associated with medical bills, therapies, and numerous other aspects of supporting children with autism.
The event will feature players, coaches, and alumni as celebrity waiters, as well as numerous live and silent auction items at El Gaucho Bellevue.
Last year’s event brought in more than $250,000 for Ben’s Fund, and the Schneider’s have received a tremendous response from the community.
“It’s a phenomenal response that we’re getting,” Traci said. “People have to pay for so much of this stuff out of their own pocket and it’s expensive. All of it is extremely expensive. It’s been really cool.
“The further we go the more people learn about the grants, and the more applications we’re getting in, and the more response we’re getting back. It’s been a really positive thing for FEAT.”