East Penn Press

Thursday, November 14, 2019
PHOTO COURTESY OF R.J. HARWICK PHOTOGRAPHY Bob Ross PHOTO COURTESY OF R.J. HARWICK PHOTOGRAPHY Bob Ross

Emmaus grad overcomes many obstacles to achieve success

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 by TODD KRESS Special to The Press in School

The amount of adversity recent Emmaus High School graduate Bob Ross has already overcome is more than what most people can say they have managed to do in a lifetime.

Diagnosed with autism at 20 months old, Ross lost the ability to imitate at a young age. At 15 months, he was not talking and had trouble realizing who his parents were. Four months later, his language was at the level of a 9-month old; it was thought he may not even be able to surpass a special-education setting and may not be able to talk.

But Ross's character which includes a sense of motivation and determination to never give up on achieving his goals combined with a few changes to his food diet as a child, has made him into an individual that could have only been envisioned years ago.

As a member of the stage crew at Emmaus High School, Ross graduated with honors with the rest of his senior class and was an Eagle Scout, achieving some of his main goals going through high school.

He also received a number of awards including the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award, a technical theatre award for his stage crew mastery and the Striving for Excellence Award from the Emmaus Lions Club. He will attend Penn State University's main campus in the fall and major in bio-engineering.

"He got the Striving for Excellence Award at graduation because his grades were important to him," said his mother Lori. "His goals the whole time were to go to college like his brother and sister and to graduate on the stage with honors at Emmaus. He just worked a lot to get to where he is today."

"Graduating with honors with my classmates was very, very nice," Ross said. "I really liked it because pretty much it showed that all the work I did paid off, and I have a perfectly bright future ahead of me, compared to most people with my disability who are just being cared for their entire lives."

Ross underwent a home-therapy program, called Applied Behavior Analysis, for 40 hours a week and seven days a week in Upstate New York that lasted 15 months until the Ross's moved to Allentown in 2000. His parents understood the East Penn School School District covered expenses for the therapy, despite only offering it during the week. The Ross's hired a number of therapists on the weekends.

Ross gradually improved over the years, most notably when Lori made a few changes to his food diet, switching to a gluten-free lifestyle. She first got rid of milk and Ross started to imitate just 48 hours after that decision. The next step included getting rid of wheat and the results were all positive.

"I found the balance where now I can be myself and be fully confident in myself now with my idiosyncrasies and my little things," Ross said. "But everyone has them. I appear to be perfectly normal with no social awkwardness or anything. So it kind of really worked out for the best."

Following in the shoes of his siblings, both of whom were members of the stage crew at EHS, Ross was a member of the crew for all four years. He had a key part in building the sets for all eight plays during his high school years. His favorite experience in stage crew was working on "Phantom of the Opera" in his sophomore year. What he also enjoyed about it were the friendships he developed with those individuals along the way.

"It was the best experience of my life thus far," Ross said. "My older brother was in the cast and my older sister was the stage manager for three years.

Much of the credit is due to Ross who never quit during the rough therapy programs and continued to fight to where he stands today. He also credits his parents and best friend for keeping him motivated over the years.

"It came from my parents at first because my parents instilled me with a 'get it done and then play later' attitude," Ross said. "With all my brothers and sisters, that's just the way they taught us."

The fall semester is quickly approaching and is just a few weeks away. One more thing Ross would like to prove to his parents is the fact he'll be able to thrive on his own.

"The thing I'm looking forward to the most is getting out of the house and proving to my parents that I actually can live on my own," Ross said.

"It's an opportunity to prove to them and actually make them understand how far I've come."