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Drew Aston: A Brighter Future Realized

By Shannon Aston

Young man standing in front of a wall of heart artwork

Meet Drew, who by the way, uses Andrew as his “professional” name. He’s smart, focused, energetic, funny, and EMPLOYED! If you run into him at UAMS, he will probably be pushing a wheel chair or gurney with a big smile on his face or chatting about the Razorbacks and/or Cowboys with his co-workers. Drew has been with UAMS as a patient transporter and most recently as equipment manager for five years. What you don’t see is the invisible village that walks with him every day. The people who taught him to chew, to talk (by the way…he hasn’t stopped talking since), to read, to write, to understand social cues, to navigate the city bus system, to help him become the best he can be, and the list goes on and on.

As a baby, Drew’s struggles were always difficult to diagnose, the complicated one to figure out, and the one to defy the odds. He navigated public school, private school, recreational sports teams, and it wasn’t an easy road. Besides his family, Drew’s faithful sidekick has always been…ACCESS.

Drew experienced a lot of “firsts” in his 32 years and most of them involved ACCESS. He was a member of the first ACCESS Academy class. There were six students in a threeroom “school.” With the help of a team of teachers and therapists, this is where Drew experienced his first independent academic success. Using the Association Method, he learned to read and write, and with each success came more confidence in himself.

In a sense, Drew and ACCESS Academy grew up together. As the program flourished, so did Drew and his classmates. With the addition of the ACCESS Gators, Drew learned leadership skills, how to be a team player, how to navigate the highs and lows of winning and losing, and how loud his parents could scream at track meets. Sometimes being on the autism spectrum, along with developmental apraxia of speech and learning disabilities, flat got in his way! But his trust in his coaches (ACCESS teachers and therapists) enabled Drew to make mistakes and be redirected without making him feel anything less than “typical.”

Not only did Drew get support as he navigated the world, his family also benefitted from all ACCESS had to offer. His younger brother, Ryan, attended sibling classes with other students’ brothers and sisters. This gave him the opportunity to speak freely with peers with similar circumstances under the guidance of a trained therapist. His parents gained life-long friends and had resources to help them with all of the extras that come with raising a child with disabilities. Drew had a graduating class of…one. The gym was filled with people who had been part of his village in one way or another. Drew stood to make his speech, and as he started speaking, his speech therapist realized he had gone rogue. The words weren’t the same as the ones she helped him write and practice. After an initial panic moment, what transpired was everything that ACCESS had prepared him for and more. That evening Drew pointed to different people in attendance and told stories about the relationship he had with each one. What a night to experience, but what the future held at that point was anyone’s guess.

Young man sitting on a boat

Finding jobs for young adults with a disability and limited transportation options was no easy task. Enter ACCESS and Project SEARCH just in time. Drew’s life would take a turn in a very good way. He interviewed for the program and was accepted as a member of the first Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative class!

Project SEARCH taught Drew so much about skills needed to be successful in the workforce. Part of the curriculum included serving as interns in several different areas of the hospital… including patient transportation. When Crothall at UAMS called with a full-time offer, Drew and the Project SEARCH team literally screamed out loud and jumped up and down. This is a known fact because Drew did a reenactment each time he told the story!

Drew is still at UAMS full-time and even has the opportunity to train other Project SEARCH interns in his own department. So if you are ever lost at UAMS and you see a tall, blonde, young man with a big smile pushing a wheelchair, stop him and introduce yourself. Drew will get you where you need to be. If you mention ACCESS, you’re in for treat!