Fearless Competitor

Thompson inspires all

awileman@sierrastar.comApril 29, 2014 

As Yosemite High School freshman Katie Thompson takes position behind the plate for the Yosemite High School JV softball team those who don't know her would have little reason to suspect the 15-year-old slugger copes with autism.

Diagnosed as a neurological developmental condition characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and categorized patterns of behavior, autism effects nearly one in every 88 children born in the United States today.

Yet Thompson, who said the disorder mainly effects her speech and ability to comprehend at times, has not shied away from life's challenges regardless of her condition.

Currently Thompson leads the Lady Badger's JV softball team in hits (14) and runs (20) and is second on the team in batting average (.378), stolen bases (12), RBIs (8) and doubles (1).

With no particular explanations as to why she enjoyed baseball so much as a youngster, Thompson said "I just liked it."

So when given the opportunity in 2011 to join the Yosemite Girls Softball League (YGSL), a local youth organization run by volunteers to give grades school girls a chance to play softball, the fearless Thompson swung for the fences.

Initially Thompson started playing first base and played a bit of shortstop for the YGSL Tornadoes, but it was soon evident that despite her late introduction to the sport, Thompson had a glove worthy of admiration and she was no slouch at the plate either.

During her final season with YGSL, she achieved her first home run, the only one on the team that year.

Contributed by her motivation and success it was clear that Katie had found a passion for softball. Expressing continued interest to her mother of her desire to play in high school, there was nothing that was going to keep Thompson of the field.

Upon her arrival for Yosemite try outs, JV coach Larry Rich and varsity coach Shannon Wenger had their first exposure to Thompson's undeniable skills on the softball diamond. Rich and Wenger were so amazed at her athletic ability they knew they had a tough decision on their hands. Do they pull the rather inexperienced, but skilled, freshman up to varsity or give her another year to develop and understand the game at the more forgiving JV level? Either way it was clear that Thompson had a bright future with the Badgers.

Thompson, nicknamed "The Beast" by her teammates, now wears the number 16 and says she is just happy to be playing.

She has since transitioned from first base to catcher, one of the most demanding positions on the field, where she is the center of every pitch. Thompson said she would have it no other way.

Her ability to adjust and take on the role of catcher with no prior experience is a testimony to Thompson's mental prowess and ability to accomplish anything she puts her mind to.

According to Thompson, softball gives her the opportunity to concentrate on something other than daily life and gives her the time to hang with her teammates and remove herself from the stresses of high school.

Thompson hopes to continue playing softball after high school in hopes of playing for her mother's Alma Mater, Fresno State.

Of course Thompson's talents do not fall short off the diamond. Besides her astute athletic ability Thompson was a straight-A student in her first semester at YHS and has yet to miss a day of school.

Along with her success in academics, and with a little encouragement from her parents, Thompson has produced some fascinating artwork which has won her several awards including first prize in the High School division at the 2013 Gateway Expressions Student Art and Poetry Contest for her watercolor painting of Bridelveil Creek. That painting could be seen displayed weeks after the event at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley.

Thompson's never-say-never mentality has led her to experience an otherwise normal life for a 15-year-old.

According to Thompson's much of her success is due to her the support from her biggest fan, her mother and longtime Oakhurst resident, Beth Adkins.

Adkins, who was part of Yosemite High School's inaugural senior class, said although Thompson's upbringing was difficult at times she never had any doubts about her daughters remarkable gifts.

Prior to Thompson's birth, Adkins taught at Oakhurst Elementary where she had brief encounters with autistic children.

Like many young children with autism Thompson showed remarkable physical ability at a young age.

According to Adkins, at just 8 months Thompson was not only walking but running, and by the early age of 2 was already riding a two-wheeled scooter, a skill that takes an average child 4- 5 years to develop.

However, despite functioning at a high level physically and athletically, Adkins said Thompson was struggling mentally with day-to-day comprehension issues.

"For Katie, we knew something was off at a very early age. She was highly sensory defensive," Adkins said.

While the diagnosis may be clear for a child severely autistic, for those who are higher functioning, like Thompson, diagnose can be difficult because many symptoms mimic other disorders.

According to Adkins, loud noises, bright lights, crowds, strong smells--any of these could cause her to shut down completely until removed from the situation.

"Speaking for her was difficult as a toddler and her sentences often made no sense, though at times things seemed fine," Adkins said. "We thought she might have a hearing problem because as a toddler she would regularly respond inappropriately to simple instructions."

As an example, Adkins might ask Thompson to put a glass in the kitchen and she might put her sock in the fridge. When asked why she would do such a thing Thompson would say because that's what she was told to do, even repeating the instruction in the errant way she heard it.

"We thought she might have had a hearing problem and there were so many things the were not sure about like significant changes in her emotions, her display of emotions and even understanding emotions."

Upon seeking answers it seemed even the doctors were frustrated at first, because Thompson seemed unable to follow the instructions.

The doctor ran a second diagnosis and determined there was not a hearing problem, but a processing issue. This gave the diagnosis of auditor processing disorder, meaning Thompson physically heard what was said, but her brain could not process the meaning of the words all the time.

To help Katie and her family learn to deal with her challenges, they were referred to a local occupational therapist, Judy Linda, whose services were donated through the the local Elks Lodge.

"Judy was wonderful, teaching us as parents, how to deal with Katie's sensory and language issues," Adkins said. "It was explained to us as a kind of short-circuit. Further diagnostic testing gave the diagnosis of autism at the age of 4."

Upon receiving the diagnosis, Adkin's had one answer, face the challenge head on and give her child the best possible opportunities she could.

"I thought okay we have challenge to deal with, what do we do? You take the bull by the horns and do the best you can do for your child," Adkins explained. "It's no different than any other child. Everyone has a challenge of some sort and you always want the best for your child so you find out how to get that for them."

Home schooled from Kindergarten through the middle of fourth grade, Thompson was enrolled in speech therapy at Chawanakee from third to sixth grade. She had her first experience in the public schooling system when she was enrolled in the Bass Lake Unified School District and participated in speech therapy at both schools for about two to three years.

According to Thompson's parents Chawanakee and Bass Lake helped her with her stutter and with some speech problems, but most importantly pointed out that the auditory processing contributed to that.

"It's not that she couldn't say what she wanted to but rather her brain and tongue were not working together," Atkins said.

Since, Thompson has no longer attends speech therapy, or therapy of any kind. However, she continually works on social, speech/language, comprehension and emotional challenges as they arise and has learned to adapt to her condition using alternative methods of comprehension.

"She has learned to say it again or if she is not quit sure," Adkins said. "If she is not understanding something, we try telling her in another way or show her. She is very visual."

In light of complications and difficulties, Adkins says her daughter has always maintained a positive attitude which is prevalent in her large showing of friends friends who Thompson has connected with over the past few years since entering public schools.

Amidst a mother-daughter high five, Adkins said she is beyond proud of her daughter's distinguished ability to remain positive while learning to deal with life's curveballs regardless of the circumstances.

"I see Katie as quite a remarkable human being and she has never really seen herself as different. She has never let anything stand in her way in trying something that she wants to do. Katie is absolutely and inspiration to myself and so many people, adults included. Most people could let any little thing ruin their day but with Katie she takes it in stride and moves on to the next moment. She gives hope that challenges can be overcome you just haven to find your way to deal with things," Atkins said. "She would make any parent proud."

Despite how frequently diagnosis of autism occur doctors and specialist have discovered few treatments to combat the disorder that effects so many American families.

Adkins said that in recent years so much research and awareness has been brought to the attention of those who deal with autism that there are more avenues for people who have children with this developmental condition.

According to Adkins the push for autism awareness in our country has made it much easier to find information and support groups where people share their experiences.

"It's not like it was 20 years ago when people were trying to understand and discovering what autism was," Adkins said.

For those who suffer from autism or are dealing with simile types of developmental problems there is a wide-range of treatment options, between support groups and speech therapist there is someone out there for all. Early signs of autism include poor eye contact, delayed speech and language issues and poor motor development. If Thompson is any kind of example for those with autism she is proof that autism is not an automatic strike out.

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