Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Great Autism Spectrum Disorder story

Ron Schrage may not know the names of all his 360 or so fellow workers at Belleville Shoe Manufacturing Co., but they all know him.
"Everybody loves Ron," said Cindy Jansen, who helped organize a big 50th lunchtime birthday bash for the autistic worker on Tuesday.
"He's the most popular guy here," said Eric Weidmann, president of the company.
Ron started work at the company Jan. 27, 1979, despite his autism, a disorder that leaves people without normal social skills and a need for strict order and routine.
Some autistic people can't function in normal society but Ron's need for routine doesn't affect his work at the shoe company. His favorite job is pulling lasts, or plastic manufacturing forms, out of finished shoes.
He also fills in for other workers and does whatever is needed.
For Ron's milestone birthday, fellow workers brought in dishes or chipped in cash to buy chicken and a large decorated cake.
Everyone obviously knows about his love of bubbles and drawing. Many of his birthday gifts were some sort of bubble device, crayons or paper to draw on. Ron triumphantly held up each for the crowd to admire.
Ron draws pictures for everyone. For the party, workers had about 50 T-shirts made up of one of his self-portraits.
His dad, Art Schrage ("Arthur," Ron reminded him), drives Ron to work every day from their home between Waterloo and Hecker and picks him up in the afternoon. Work begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
"He stays until they're done with him and he would stay longer if necessary," Art said.
"I love my job," Ron said. "Eric hired me."
Weidmann said the company tries to hire handicapped workers. He had asked Art if he thought Ron would be a good worker and they agreed he should try.
"He tried out and he has turned out to be a great worker," Weidmann said.
For his three weeks of vacation, Ron flies to Pennsylvania in July to visit his sister, Patty Bradish.
Art said Ron was such a regular that the flight attendants would come and get him and let him sit in the cockpit. New Sept. 11 security measures put an end to that, however.
Wendell Moore, one of his lunch buddies at the plant, said there is "Ron Time," kind of like "Curt Time" in downtown Belleville. Ron always knows when it is time to go back to work and sets the example.
Everyone had kind words and congratulations for Ron on his birthday.
"He's a part of us," Moore said.