Erik Weber thought that he was communicating as a child, but he was only screaming. At age three he was diagnosed with Autism. Doctors told his parents that he would never be mentally older than eighteen months. Erik was non-verbal until age seven. His parents were told to put Erik in an institution, but Erik didn't end up in an institution, he ended up becoming a lawyer. This is Erik Weber's story, the only way I can tell it in his words because they are so powerful you have to hear them.
COURTNEY DALY-PAVONE: What was your childhood like? Did you go to a traditional school?
ERIK WEBER: I went to Rolando Park Elementary School for preschool, Rowan Elementary for Kindergarten, Rolando for first through most of the third grade, and Excelsior Academy (Non-Public Placement with a small classroom teacher-student ratio) through High School graduation with a diploma. Before I went to Excelsior, I was in the third grade doing first-grade level work. I was not getting learning accommodations in public school as a kid. It was when I got into a non-public placement that I could get one-on-one attention from teachers while still getting social interaction. I caught up to my grade level and skipped the eighth grade. I took college classes at Grossmont after my Sophmore year so I could understand work expectation differences between High School and College and make a smooth transition. I graduated from high school with 23 college units already completed.
Was there a time when you were a student that something clicked, meaning you had a breakthrough in learning, and then things became easier?
When my parents gave recognition to my emotions and needs, I felt less isolated and more comfortable trying to connect with them. When I felt my parents, and teachers, were trying to help meet my needs, I could trust them. Trust is the key to learning. Also, comedy in the home setting and in school is very helpful. I found goofy noises, funny teaching methods, and other silly presentations to be useful and engaging.
Who was your biggest inspiration and supporter?
My parents, my preschool teacher (Desa McNulty), and my friend since preschool (Ciara McNulty). In fact, Ciara became an occupational therapist because of her passion for helping others with special needs. She is the friend who led me out of isolation so I could grow as a person. Also, my parents and Desa collaborated and were on the same page. This is very important when educating students in school and carrying that development outside of school. Continuity and collaboration by parents and teachers foster consistent education.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
I was indecisive in 2008 when first asked about the idea of going to law school. But it was in 2011 after finishing my Master's Degree in Public Administration (literally seconds after stepping off the graduation stage) that I told my mom that there was something else I had to do. I saw a need to help other individuals with special needs through law. I decided that practicing law would be one of the strongest ways I could be a voice and hero for others who do not always have the ability to advocate for themselves.
I think a lot of people have limited expectations for people with autism what would you like to tell those people?
People with autism are people first. People with autism have the same interests and ambitions as anyone else. Nobody thought when I was a child that I could become a licensed California attorney. When the University of San Diego said no, California Western School of Law said yes, and gave me access to opportunity to go to law school. I got a chance to prove my worth, develop my abilities, and become a successful attorney in fields such as Special Education Law. Do not underestimate. Embrace.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Trust is the key to development and education. Trust also has to be earned by teachers, and by parents, in order to help individuals with special needs.
Erik Weber is a Special Needs Attorney, Motivational Speaker, and avid Runner. He won overall gold in the USA Masters Games 10k Race. He won Top 10 Overall in the Surfing Madonna 15K, won the Celebration Run Nighttime 5K overall, and earned Bronze in the USATF 4x200 Relay in 2002. Erik also trains athletes on Team Skybirds, a team that embraces athletes with special needs as people first. They compete in track meets, including The Special Olympics.
What's next for Erik Weber?
Well, he has a laundry list of future goals that make even the most ambitious person look like a slacker. Erik wants to run the Boston Marathon, win gold overall in the San Diego Race for Autism 5k (he won silver in 2018), and race The Big Sur International Marathon.