“I Have High Hopes”

WHS Sophomore Lance Davenport Discusses Misconceptions About Brother's Autism


Jon Wejko

Lance Davenport hanging out in Mr. Smith's room.

Nathan Currier, Staff Writer


Put yourself in the shoes of a young child at the tender age of four or five. Having a seemingly average family in rural New York with the common nuclear family is the American standard of how life plays out. This is your life until one day you notice your brother acting strange… he isn’t growing or developing properly like other kids you’ve seen. Your parents approach you one day after coming home from a doctor’s appointment for your brother. They sit you down and give you some family altering information: “Your brother is severely autistic.”


One might see this information as a small deal, but you must think about how different it is raising a child who is very developmentally disabled, versus the average child. While not just looking at the different costs of doing so, but how one must be raised and cared for.


Everyone must struggle in their life in some way, with mental disorders, physical impairments, finding love and someone in life; but everyone must take one-another’s problems into perspective of the ones who’ve had to, or currently live with it.


If there is no struggle, there is no progress. My friends, you will observe that I have taken a wide range of it, and you think it is about time that I should answer the special objection to this celebration. I think so too.”

-Frederick Douglas


Although in the context of human suffering during the early days of American history, the message still rings out to all who may read it. No person can change as a person without first having to overcome some difficulty in life. We don’t celebrate the difficulties in life, we instead decide to look upon them as a time where our life was altered. It creates our character, and it also creates who we truly are deep down on the inside. Some of you know a person who keeps moving, a person who instead of cradling themselves, they decide to instead move forward. Weedsport High School sophomore Lance Davenport, and his 12-year-old brother, Nathan Davenport, are both ones who doesn’t stop or give up at problems of life.


An old Japanese Shinto and Buddhist belief brought the idea of a person’s three faces; one to which they show others, one to which they show their friends, and one to which they show only to themselves. We are made not by nature, but by how we live. Fortunately enough, we were able to conduct an interview with Lance and his family with their accounts, and truly get to see some sort of glimpse into a family that truly struggles.


Lance often and admittedly has to play off the severity of his brother’s disorder. Leading to him sometimes openly speaking about it, but not unto its full depth could be explored. “People definitely say things about me and my brother. I’m fully aware of the extent and the possibilities of that. It’s just more of the fact that I’m worried about his perception to not just my fellow classmates, but to others in general.”


Nathan Davenport, Lance’s disabled brother, ranges pretty far on the traditional autism spectrum. With such things of having poor social skills, an inability to visually learn, and a severe temperament which causes uncontrollable fits of violence. Causing him to lash out at others; be it family or friends alike. Lance clarified it more with, “I don’t think my brother does it intentionally… it’s something he can’t control very well as its more of an impulsive thing.”


Since Nathan can not communicate verbally what is wrong with him or what is upsetting him, it normally leads to confusion and chaos within the household, especially with his mother being the primary caregiver to Nathan. A way they found around this system is having Nathan use some sort of text to speech technology or use a color system to identify different moods or feelings. Due to this development of being able to now explain or rationalize basic emotions, he could actually begin to go into public schooling.


The problem arose when he wasn’t in one-on-one scenario or in a general classroom, “Being around other kids with the same or similar disorders is detrimental to Nathan, as he’d copy their behavior instead of someone in a typical classroom setting. He tends to copy his environment around him as most people do with some form of autism.


Although it is a widely controversial view, Lance described his reasoning for his brother’s condition, “I don’t want to necessarily say that vaccines cause autism, but when my family told me about his condition it seemed awfully close from when he was being ready to get vaccinated… but I think it’s the mixture of chemicals within it.”


According to Lance, Nathan has one special gift that apparently sets him apart from others with the same disability, and that’d be his natural talent to be able to write. “It was just something he was able to do…” Lance had said “It’s more fair to say that his natural talent and his almost self awareness of his disorder converge.” From his ability to write and for it to be translated text-to-speech, he was able to express to his parents and Lance that most of his compulsions or faults are not his own. Feeling like he’s in a battle with the functioning and nonfunctioning side. After any sort of altercation, Nathan cannot hold back a break down of sorrow for his family, knowing full-well he can’t help the things he had done.


Further research by the Autism-Speaks organization concludes that it is fairly uncommon for violence towards others or self harm to be an average part of the spectrum, usually resulting in a different diagnosis, but due to the New York State HIPPA laws, it makes it nearly impossible to gain access to medical records, even with parental consent. The standard classification we’d have to assess and assume in this situation would be low functioning autism. It is incredibly rare for Nathan to have the abilities that he does and be low functioning. Autistic people, let alone an average person, can follow directions so auditorily as he can.


“He shouldn’t be looked down upon or given up on. He has the potential for a bright and successful future just as anyone else is entitled to.”


Lance continued, “Even if he’s not able to live the life of a normal person, that shouldn’t stop him or anyone else with any disability… but I would say a positive would come from this, it gives me another whole view on people that have a disability. And gives me an appreciation that I was fortunate enough for everything I have and do in my life, some people definitely have it much worse.”    


It would be fair to say that anyone with a disabled family member has a difficult life. Having the responsibility of caring for someone who cannot care for themselves is a challenge that many people might have to face someway or another. “It impacts my life daily, and I’m constantly reminded by it some way or another. I do admittedly wish for my brother to have been born normal, but we don’t have that luxury… but I have high hopes.” Today, Nathan Davenport is  attempting to make better progress everyday with his condition.


The United States has a very difficult dilemma of how mentally disabled people should be treated in our country today. While we might understand the condition of how it’s caused at birth; to the intricacies of the disorder and its effect on different parts of the brain, we still don’t know how to treat an individual with it. Every man, woman, or child with Autism has a specifically tailored brain that requires different education and homelife. According to New York State’s Department of Health, one out every sixty-eight kids are born along the spectrum somewhere. That being low functioning and requiring a caretaker the rest of their life, or high functioning where they’re able to live their lives just as anyone else can.


Where we fail specifically is the treatment of it. Unfortunately up until the late 1990’s, Autism-Spectrum-Disorder was characterized as a mental health impairment associated with schizophrenia around 1908. For almost a hundred years over the course of United States’ history we’ve had a misconstrued perception of a developmentally and learning disorder. Only just recently have we begun being able to identify signs of disorders when a child is in womb, and know how to raise and treat them properly so it alleviates most of the problems associated with the disorder.


Understanding the intricacies of the disorder itself takes more than a simple Google Search, it requires learning from individuals who struggle from it themselves or with someone close to them, and thankfully to the efforts of individuals trying to educated people on it such as  Lance Davenport, Nathan Davenport, and their family, even a small community such as Weedsport, New York can have our own fair-share of problems we need to confront. The call for care and aide of individuals afflicted with the disorder in our own town and across the U.S is staggering, and continues to grow everyday. If anyone would like to donate towards an organization that is the leading movement in the U.S for research and care for the autistic population, the Autism-Speaks organization requires more funding and volunteering every day.


“No matter how anyone might think of my brother and myself, I know one thing that comforts us at every crossroads we encounter… He is human.”

Editor’s Note: If  this story spurred you to action and you have the means to support research to help kids like Nathan, please take the time to click the link below and donate to Autism Speaks.