Asperger's doesn't stop teen from success

September 8, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Eric van Wazer has Asperger's sydrome, but his hard work and good memory earned him a spot in the state's National Geographic Geography Bee last year. The 15-year-old also just started his sophomore year in high school.

"I got straight A's both semesters last year. I played baseball on my freshman team and I played house league and, as you can see, I was in the geography bee a few years ago and did very well," Van Wazer said.

Eric's mother Theresa said he was diagnosed with Asperger's after he started preschool.

"When we would drop him off in the morning, he did not want to play with other kids -- it's like he didn't know what to do because it was unstructured and he wasn't sure, 'Do I go here,'" Theresa said. "So he would cry virtually every morning, so it got to be a pattern and then we took him to an evaluation at the school district."

Theresa added: "He's very intelligent boy but socially, he's awkward, and he's now making friends. It's been a long struggle, but he's doing really well in that regard. But that's the biggest piece and that's where we see the biggest difficulty in him -- it's not cognitive, it's mostly social."

Since Eric's dad Roger was proficient in geography, Eric became interested.

"We'd take a summer vacation he would remember every place we'd been. He could remember hotel numbers on doors, 'Oh we stayed in this hotel on this day,' I think it's just natural curiosity and then he reads a lot and there's probably some genetic component, too, but he remembers everything, and it's phenomenal the amount of knowledge he has about geography," Roger said. "I think he was probably even better than I was."

Last year he placed fourth in the state's geography competition. For him, the challenge was more social.

"It was loud and people were coming and going and having to look at the person and having to listen to the question being asked was really tough," Theresa said.

"I won a medal. I won that was the only really special thing I got," Eric said.

Eric has come a long way, especially after learning about his disability.

"He was like, 'Oh why me? Why do I have to have this? My brother doesn't have this, why do I have to live with this?' And I said, 'Eric you know it's not the worst thing in the world -- it's something we can work on and you can improve,'" Theresa said.

Knowing that he can excel in anything, Eric is not shy about sharing his future plans.

"Well geography has always been something I'm good at but it's not my true passion as of something like baseball. I want to possibly go into a career of broadcasting because I'm an actor and I love baseball and I just think the two would come together and it would be a very successful career but really any career I could go into, as my dad said, I'll be alright," Eric said.

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