Rachel and Pete Terry welcomed their firstborn son, James, seventeen years ago. As he got older, the couple noticed that he was having issues communicating and was missing certain developmental milestones. They went to their family doctor, who referred them to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. It was then they were told that their three-year-old son James was autistic. Rachel and Pete were not sure where to turn. They were forced to do a lot of research on their own to learn about the challenges that their son would face and what things they could do to help. Pete said, “It was a shock. There was so much unknown about what we were going to do next.” Rachel immersed herself in research. She looked into anything she could find. She reached out to the Area Education Agency and they helped greatly.
“Raising a child with autism is hard,” said Pete. “Rachel is the real star. I got to go to work every day and take a break. She stayed home and had to work through all of the daily challenges. She was very aggressive in trying to find ways to help, and sometimes I wanted to take a slower approach, which could cause some tension at times. But we just worked through it all as a family.”
Seventeen-year-old James’ biggest challenges involve communication. Pete said, “He does better with yes or no questions. Asking open-ended questions will take him longer to answer.” The Terrys have two other children, Jacob (15) and Grace (12), who love their older brother. Jacob, like any teenage sibling, likes to play jokes on his big brother. James is very particular about his room. It is his safe space. He does not like other people to mess with his room and that is where he goes to be alone. Jacob will walk by and simply open the door, knowing it will aggravate his older brother. Pete said, “Jacob will open that door and James will quickly slam it shut. Jacob loves his brother very much but likes to push his buttons.”
Music is something that James has responded to since a young age. The Terrys started him in music lessons with Jean Mengel at the age of five. Mengel is still his private music teacher today. James is in Concert Band, Marching Band, and Jazz Band at MHS. He is a percussionist specializing in the vibraphone and the marimba. This month James competed in the solo and ensemble contest for Iowa. He performed two pieces. He received a division 1 rating, which is the highest rating available. Pete told the Voice of Muscatine, “The kids in the music program at the high school are some of the best kids I have ever known. As a father of a child with disabilities, you always worry about how they will be treated by other kids. When we go places, James knows more people than I do. Kids are always coming up and saying hi. He has friends in the music department. Jeff Heid, the band director, and Jonathan Ryan, the choir director, are wonderful with my son.”
The family takes annual vacations to Florida. James loves amusement parks and roller coasters. While the rest of the family wants to relax on the beach or by the pool, James wants to go on the thrill rides. James also loves movies and is now at a point where he can go to a movie by himself, which is a big milestone for him. James is finishing his junior year of high school and is looking forward to next year’s marching band season.