Host David Hirsch talks to special father, Dan Tepperman. Dan has two boys including 20 year old Scott who is autistic. Dan talks about the challenges and rewards of raising a child with special needs and the family’s decision to use Little City (www.littlecity.org) to help Scott thrive and the family to regain its balance. That’s all in this Dad to Dad Podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Dad to Dad 70 – Dan Tepperman, Father of Two Including a Son with Autism Who is Thriving At Little City
Dan Tepperman: You got to live the moments, for example, uh, when I would tie Scott shoes, he doesn’t tie his shoes. He’ll rub my back or I’ll take it for a walk. He’ll reach his hand out for me. And a lot of hold my hand, there are very special moments. Our society is so driven for excellence and. My son does this and that, but when you have a son with special needs, you know, having a son rubbed her back, it’s wonderful.
Tom Couch: That’s Dan Tepperman, special father of Scott age 20 who’s autistic. Dan tells his story and how Scott who’s nonverbal has taught Dan important lessons about love and life. That’s all on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.com.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in on this conversation between Dan Tepperman and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, Dan Tepperman of Skokie, Illinois, who is a father of two boys and in advertising sales.
Dan, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Dan Tepperman: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. And the honor to be asked to be on the podcast.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Audrey had been married for 23 years and of the proud parents of two boys, Ryan 17 and Scott 20, who has autism.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Dan Tepperman: I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois. I’m the youngest of four children, but three other siblings. My oldest brother Richard is, uh, he’s eight years older. And the other brother Rob is, uh, six, six and a half years older.
And my sister is two and a half years older than me.
David Hirsch: So you’re the baby? Yes, I am. Okay. Well, for some reason I think of the baby and the family. Having a little bit easier route as the father of five. I think that the older four kids of ours wore us down. So by the time the baby comes along, you know, it’s amazing what a you get away with sometimes very well said.
Dan Tepperman: That’s very, very true. A matter of fact, I was telling my oldest brother, uh, Richard, that I was asked to go on a podcast and we were kind of reminiscing that, you know, he, he, uh, kind of a pioneer, he paved the way. So my parents were too exhausted to, uh, deal with me. And, but I was actually a very good kid, uh, the, uh, the foresight to see that the States that they made or the choices they made as the, I don’t want to do that.
So was actually, I was a very good, good kid that their parents didn’t have to be anything to be worried.
David Hirsch: So they didn’t have to discipline you as much as they probably did your brother.
Dan Tepperman: Not at all. Exactly.
David Hirsch: So I’m Chris now, what did your dad do for a living.
Dan Tepperman: He was a in real estate investments. And I remember it’s interesting.
Uh, getting back to sales are getting the sales I’m in sales myself, and he would put a deal together. And it was like a lot of money that people invest with him. And they said, wow, you made all this money for like a half hour or whatever work and looked like minimal work, but he gets paid nothing for throughout the year.
Until he makes something. I think that’s the nature of, of selling is you make something when you sell and you don’t like anything if you’re all your time. So I’d always remember that story
David Hirsch: that goes into getting to the sale, the preparation, the sort of process that it takes to find prospects and, you know, learn as much as you can about the benefits and the opportunities.
And not everybody says, yes. Very true. There’s a lot of time that goes into exactly. So, um, from what I remember, your dad was on real estate investments and property management, and he died at 75, you know, 10 years ago or so. Yeah.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah. He died in, uh, 2004.
David Hirsch: Okay. How would you characterize your relationship with your dad?
Dan Tepperman: I had a good relationship, but being the youngest of four, I was the baby. I, I had a really good relationship now available oldest brother. Uh, you know, there was a little more of a challenging relationship, but I know they love each other. Certainly, interestingly, my dad, and maybe, maybe it relates to men and fatherhood, as opposed to mother, it is a, I think men and males show their love.
We don’t always express our love. It’s more with how we do it. And my dad, I remember a distinct story. And I remember actually when he passed away saying to the rabbi, you know, think, well, he said, what do you remember by your father? Which story can you share? And the thing that comes to mind, I was, I lived at my senior city college and university of Massachusetts at Amherst.
And I said that I had an idea, you know, I’d like to live in Cape Cod. You know, this is my junior year going into my senior of college. Of course I didn’t have a car. And the Uber at the time was my, uh, so my dad’s, that’s a good idea. And interestingly enough, have a close friend of our family, uh, his name, uh, he’s still alive at the same.
Sam Peffer. I owned a dealer, a car dealership, but Chevy dealership. My dad was thinking, because obviously you buy a used car for just for the summer. I mean, at that age, you, whatever, I it’s, you know, free for 500 boxes to get me around. Cause in Cape Cod is really no public trends. It’s rotation. It’s it’s uh, so my dad, uh, talk to Sam and Sam said, you know, you shouldn’t get a used car, you should buy a new car.
But what happened was my dad. You said that Daniel, if I buy you a car and I wish you you pay, or what would you pay for a used car? I mean, he was just asking me, he said that too, that $2,000, you know, I, I had money saved up from, I was a vendor at the ballpark in high school and college. So I had money in there.
And I said, I said, okay, sure, dad, I’ll give you 2000. It’s very nice of you. I didn’t expect him to buy a new car, but what he did, but more importantly than that is he drove the car from Illinois all the way, the massive, all the way to Cape Cod. Oh my gosh. And took from Cape Cod, took a plane back to Boston, then took another plane back to Chicago.
So that’s something I always remember about my dad. So he showed that his love, uh, and also too, like he would always send me. Maybe it’s not so much true now these days, but newspaper clippings. So that’s just the way my dad was. Or for example, if there’s an ice storm, you know, he’d call you don’t drive, you know, it’s an ice storm, you know, so that’s kind of how I, the way my dad was.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing. So I’m wondering if there’s any lessons that you can think of beyond the stories that you just related about your dad, something that you think about when you think about your dad.
Dan Tepperman: You know, maybe, uh, the still waters run deep. I think my dad was always fairly reserved, but he had a deep voice.
My mom now she was more of a talker, so you’ve had that for a good, more of the socializing.
David Hirsch: Okay. That’s fabulous. So, uh, you mentioned that you went to the university of Massachusetts, and if I remember correctly, you took a degree in hotel, restaurant management and. I also remember you telling me that you took some improv classes.
So I’m wondering when you graduated from college and what were you thinking? Where did your career take you?
Dan Tepperman: Well, I, uh, I basically said in my first job out of college was at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago.
David Hirsch: Uh, not a bad place to
Dan Tepperman: stay. Yeah. But this is about the back of the house. Nothing on the front of the house.
I was assistant manager is learning the ropes. And charge your China glass, silver of hotel. And obviously being a recent college grad that didn’t include the garbage. And it was a challenging job, just dealing with the situation that a lot of people wouldn’t show up for work or whatever. And sometimes I’ve got a college degree, but I was at home doing, having to wash dishes sometimes simple, but that didn’t really like that.
And then, um,
David Hirsch: it reminds me of when I first graduated from college as well, I had a. Counting degree. I got my CPA and I felt like all I was doing when I was doing these tax returns during busy season, especially was standing in front of a copy machine. And we used to joke that what CPA actually stood for was cut paste and
Dan Tepperman: attack.
David Hirsch: It’s like, give me the college degree to make it
Dan Tepperman: well. Yeah.
David Hirsch: So I can relate to
Dan Tepperman: it.
David Hirsch: Anyway, from there from the Ritz Carlton, where’d you go? I worked
Dan Tepperman: in a restaurant or then I worked for a Jean Sage, a well known restaurant tour. Then I realized that this really isn’t for me. So then I decided to, I’ve always enjoyed promoting people’s businesses.
And I really liked the idea of marketing. And I know in college I took a marketing class where we had to write. Proposals or whatever like that, that intrigued me. So I said, well, I guess advertising. So I buy my first job in the ad business was working for learner’s papers, which was an old time neighborhood type publication,
David Hirsch: another small world story, sorry for an updating.
But, uh, I’ve not thought about this for at least 45 years when I was 10 years old, I had delivered learn new stuff.
Dan Tepperman: Okay.
David Hirsch: And Morton Grove, Illinois sales contest. As a 10 year old, I can’t even imagine what that involved, looking back on it. And I got to go to the Jessie on baseball. Oh, Missouri for a week.
Ten-year-old and I was like, uh, Oh my gosh, this is the most amazing experience. And I think that must’ve been what a seed got planted about the rewards. The goal along with being a successful sales person.
Dan Tepperman: That’s so funny. And then after that, um, I got a job, uh, at the North shore magazine, which actually the company I worked for was a publisher’s rep for was owned, but it was 3m Rian, Paris, Paris used to be a separate rep firm.
It was bought out by 3m. So that was the title. So I solely sold for North shore magazine. Then after that, I worked at a company called food industry news for a number of many, many years selling ads. And that was again, the tie into food. And that I’ve been working with my current company for about, uh, going on 11 years.
David Hirsch: what
Dan Tepperman: company is that? Oh, industrial marketplace. It’s uh, I saw ads, uh, in digital. We’re a niche publication in terms of better working in fabricating. Our auctions are a big part of our publication.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Dan Tepperman: Part of that, we deal with a lot of industrial
David Hirsch: related options
Dan Tepperman: and it’s great cause you call it people.
It’s not their money. Sure. As long as he is, as long as you’re justifying the relationship. And so, and the thing is, is you could understand what sales, if you don’t call them, nothing happens. They’re not going to call you
David Hirsch: why? I said very simply there’s a hundred percent probability. Then nothing’s going to happen if you
Dan Tepperman: don’t
David Hirsch: ask the question.
Dan Tepperman: Exactly.
David Hirsch: So thanks for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know how, how did you and Audrey meet?
Dan Tepperman: We met at a hayride in Morton Grove getting back to more. I grow and she lived in the city. And then about 10 days later, we have a group of friends that got together and we all that’s when we went to deja VU and they had a live band.
Brass orchestra. And they said, I guess I must’ve been so excited to meet her, but I was actually talking over the band, but to get back at that, uh, that could be my days as offenders. So, uh, maybe that’s well being in sales.
David Hirsch: So where were you at? Uh, at
Dan Tepperman: the mall at the ballpark frequent Wrigley field parka I, one thing I do remember actually selling, uh, Uh, Coke, uh, to a, a player during the game, they were in the dugout.
So I can’t remember what of the Cubs it was any opposing team. Uh, so I remember, I remember that. It was a lot of fun. It’s it’s hard work, you know, you’d go up and down stairs
David Hirsch: one, you felt a lot of weight.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That I remember. My third year I did it for three years. My third year I was promoted the hotdogs.
That was a big deal, but I remember it was 102 that day. And I actually, one of the few times I didn’t want to have hot dogs. What it was, it was a union operation. And then at the nicest people, ain’t going to say that if you want, if you don’t want it, you’re not gonna take hot thoughts today. You’re never going to get outside.
Okay. Hot dogs. It is. I’ll take out. Sorry. I’m so happy. You’re throwing that out though. And I remember with, with the pop, you know, it drips and the worst part is there are bees that would like be attracted to the shore. So it’s like, but I never got stung. I was just a little careful, but I made, did pretty well.
With that job. And, uh, is that how it was, you would pay a load of whatever it was from the people’s money, but you put it, it was like commission, like 20% or whatever is you make like 20%
David Hirsch: 20 tips.
Dan Tepperman: I think the beer guys got, I hear that’s a thing of alcohol and people get more generous. Right? Right.
David Hirsch: So you never sold alcohol?
Dan Tepperman: No, I did from 16 to 19 years of age, but I remember a few things. They were watching the all star game and whatever that year went to where Kaminsky part, well, that was canvassy park. And I remember going to assignment and Garfunkel concert, which we didn’t, it was that kinda C part, but we actually didn’t vend.
We were just happy to get in. And I think we meant it for the first five minutes, but no one was buying anything. So we just enjoyed the concert, but they were great. Awesome.
David Hirsch: switch gears and talk about special needs initially on a personal level, and then beyond sure. Before Scott was born, did you or Audrey have any connection to the special needs community?
Dan Tepperman: Um, I did in high school, the school I remember being picked for, uh, being like a helper. And I always remember that the guy’s name was Ronald Roland buck.
And, uh, he really looked up to me and I was his friend and that’s something I will always remember. And there’s a saying too, that the Pearson working with special leads gets perhaps even more of a ward. That’s the actual special needs person. So that, that stuck with me. Uh, and I was at Amanda, that’d be picked, you know, they may be the gym, they had gym.
I don’t remember who it was. Um, asked me to do it. Maybe just knew I would be the patient kind of guy to be the right fit. So I felt honored being
David Hirsch: chosen for that. So, um, what is Scott’s diagnosis? And at what age that transpired,
Dan Tepperman: he Scott, he was first diagnosed with. Pervasive development disorder, you know, a PDD, uh, which really means autism, but also Scott, in addition to autism, Scott has intellectual disability.
So he’s non verbal. Yeah. And I remember what he was three and I remember like, it was only spent like 10 minutes. We went to a neurologist. Yeah. We’ll do a certain exercises, but for now you like. We knew there was something wrong, but it’s like, Oh, he’s only been there for 10 minutes, but then probably leave is right to, you know, but it’s something you always remember.
I remember was a really hot, hot summer day. I just remember that the whole night, it’s interesting, like really hard memories. You can really remember everything like everyday situations. Just another day is another day. You can remember what day, but you remember that. Cause that, that was like a pronouncement.
That affects your whole life? Uh, yeah. I will never forget that day.
David Hirsch: So whatever’s life before that meeting or that neurologist. Yeah.
Dan Tepperman: The other thing too is like how I don’t think he was before the appointment. I don’t think he hands off to autism. He’s looking right at me, but there’s a lot of misnomers that people think because people with autism can look at you, but you’re your with your people.
He’s just this information. Uh, so that, that’s what I learned.
David Hirsch: So what was your first reaction? What was Audrey’s first reaction when you heard PDD? Did you understand that? Or?
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, it just, I knew we were going to have a different life, you know, from then on you’ll be a different life and yeah, there was a form of grieving too.
And at the same time, you’re so exhausted. You could barely grieve. You know what I mean? Cause you’re dealing with the daily challenges and the fallout too, is that when my younger son, Ryan, Ryan was a baby and we’re thankful for that because if we had that information before, you know, and then it really is Russian roulette, even though it is unlikely that the second son would have that.
But interestingly, not Ryan. Walk later than Scott. So we were worried, Oh my God, who knows? Maybe it’s just another opportunity to get, try to get some attention. And is it maybe as a baby, you knew? Yeah. Right. And walked off my Skywalker at 18 months and a Ryan Ryan walked at 20 months. So we’ve, we were concerned.
But Ryan was able to speak in sentences before I could walk. So we were fell. Okay. Well, I think we’re okay.
David Hirsch: Sort of wonder as young parents, it’s been a while, since I’ve been a young parent, my kids are 23 to 30 and I remember our daughter who’s now 28 was born prematurely. Her hair didn’t grow. She didn’t have any hair for years and she would walk.
She would just like, sort of scoot around on the ground and we’re like, wow. That doesn’t seem normal. Right. But we had another child right behind her and then another one, another one. And, you know, looking back on it, you just don’t know. Right. You’re just sort of waiting and wondering, you know, are they going to just all of a sudden gonna sort of prop themselves up and start walking?
Are they gonna start talking? And you know, it must’ve been very challenging for you and Audrey, but, um, with my, of our call prior conversation, um, even though Scott’s non verbal. At one point, he did have use of hundreds and hundreds of words. I’m sort of curious now, if that was confusing, that, you know, he seemed to be progressing and have word recognition.
And then how did that all translate?
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, he had about 300 words. He was never able to speak in sentences and then he gradually lost those words. And my understanding is I hear that’s fairly common, very unusual, but fairly common. I. And again, I had never really consulted anyone out I’m on it. I, I almost think it’s almost like a tree.
In other words, a trees bleeds have to fall before they get great leaves. And maybe the brain is similar in terms of synapses. So maybe have these certain things that were working and then maybe it’s normal function that, that. You know, I’m trying to articulate that these dances, that nets this kind of a service, just a guess, I’m sure there’s a better medical explanation of what happened.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It’s an interesting analogy. I’ve not heard that before I
Dan Tepperman: came up with it.
David Hirsch: It seems like a it’s seasonal, right? I mean, that analogy is a seasonal analogy. Where are you going to the fall? The leaves come off the trees and there’s a latent period of time. And then. Yeah, the blossoms, the bugs start to come back out and then there’s a growth again.
And then each year the tree gets bigger. You’re bigger and bigger. Obviously some windows my fault. Yeah. But I wonder if you’re right. If the brain sort of has maybe not a seasonality to it, but there’s a process by which the brain develops and then maybe stops developing that’s. I think what you’re referring to, which is that, you know, it’s making progress in, or maybe it’s trying to make progress.
And then I just sorta like stalls out and, you know, stops doing what you know, would be considered typical.
Dan Tepperman: Right? Correct.
David Hirsch: Is there any meaningful advice that you and Audrey might have received early on that helped, you know, put all this in a better light or perspective for you?
Dan Tepperman: Well, we did get a lot of advice, so it wasn’t meaningful.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, let’s talk about that too, because yeah. Listeners would want to know,
Dan Tepperman: you have experts who don’t are not in it.
It’s easy to advise people if you don’t have a child with a disability. I think that’s all I need to really say. I’m sure people in my situation would totally understand. We took advice with a grain of salt. And people are well meaning, and I think it’s better to leave it at that, but people are well meaning, but they don’t really, truly understand the nature of the gravity of it.
So they will live with it. I don’t know if we got that much advice. I guess we were, I was trying to interact with other people who had the similar situation and one person said that. No, therapy’s very slow, you know, we’re I remember we were paying all this therapy, like the time I’m kind of like that, but, but that, that is some that is true, that the therapy is therapeutic, but it’s a very slow, slow process.
David Hirsch: patience is really important.
Dan Tepperman: Oh yeah,
David Hirsch: absolutely. And I imagine that there’s some step forward, some steps backwards. It’s not a straight line.
Dan Tepperman: Absolutely. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Okay. So, were there some important decisions that you made as parents to help Scott?
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, I think the key thing is, you know, Scott always had to be super busy, he needed structure, so he always made sure he, he was busy.
Uh, we enroll them in basically anything we could. Uh, I remember, uh, we lived in Evanston at the time and, uh, we went to have a special recreation. I remember dropping him off and it was from 10 30. To two 30 on Saturdays. I remember the, the white bus, you know, was there. And I just remember it was literally, if you could imagine like a heavy, heavy bag I pack in your lifted me off your body.
That’s what that means. That’s the best way I can describe it. So you can’t go it alone. I think that’s the best way. That would be my advice. You can’t go it alone and you can’t. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to reach out. I think it’s so important. That would be my advice, uh, to people, but to network and advocate for your son.
So anything we could do, we would we’d get them involved at a, we had a slew of people working with our son. We were able to qualify for better services. And I’ll tell you, one thing, one thing I learned too is bad is good. And what I mean by that, I’ll give you an example. Uh, we had to tell a story of why our son needs services.
And we were at Northbrook court with both my son, both of our son. I was watching both our kids,
David Hirsch: which is a shopping center for listeners who might not know what North Dakota.
Dan Tepperman: Oh, yes. Yes, of course. Very good. Thank you. Uh, and there’s a tree house. Every person brings their kids to the tree house in North record.
David Hirsch: like a jungle gym,
Dan Tepperman: but I remember going into the tree houses. I mentioned earlier, Scott loves water. And anyway, I’ll go back to that. So I’m in the tree house. It was Ryan. I keep my eye on Scott and the tree because you really can’t see every move when there’s kids and there’s little tumble and sure enough, Scott was gone.
And I had Ryan with me or I can’t remember. All I know is okay. If I was Scott, where would I be?
David Hirsch: I’m
Dan Tepperman: thinking a body water. Okay. Where would a body you want to be in a shopping mall? Whether there is a body of water it’s like where people throw pennies and sure enough, he was in the fountain. So that was a story we used, uh, to why we need services.
So a bad is good. Um, And that’s a sad thing to think about that is good, but when you want to qualify for services, that can help you bad is good.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, another way of thinking about it is that you don’t want to be in denial about some of the situations that you’re encountering. Right. And if that helps you qualify for additional support or services, you know, express your vulnerability.
Right. That’s what I heard you saying. In fact, one of the interviews that I did. And the only woman I’ve interviewed today for the dad to dad podcast, if you’re willing to, by the name of Becky Davidson and Becky and her husband now late husband, Jeff have a really autistic son. And one of the things that I’ll never forget that she said it.
And I think you just said the same thing was that a vulnerability is really important, you know, to embrace your vulnerability and the way she phrased it was. Vulnerability is her super power, like, because it wasn’t until then that she realized this, the member women are more equipped to do this than men to show their vulnerability.
And it’s just an acceptance of their situation and the fact that they can’t do it themselves, but they need help. And I think if we could get that message out to more parents, not just moms, but to dads that that’s not a bad thing. Having vulnerability is not a bad thing. It’s just being realistic. And maybe part of our challenge is not as that, remember, we will even pull over and ask for directions
Dan Tepperman: on her loss.
It’s true. I
David Hirsch: kind of want to shore up vulnerability. We’re going to figure it out. Right, right, right. But the faster that we can say, Hey, maybe I don’t have it all. I don’t have what it takes or I’m not on top of the situation. Maybe not necessarily I would benefit, but more importantly, my child, my son or daughter would benefit from additional services.
So thanks for sharing.
Dan Tepperman: Sure.
David Hirsch: So were there some, um, institutions, uh, organizations that you’ve relied on to help, uh, bring out Scott’s best characteristics?
Dan Tepperman: As I said, we just needed them to be busy. One thing I want to say too is, uh, you know, Scott, for me, it was like the best personal trainer and how, I mean by that is.
If he didn’t get his exercise and he wouldn’t necessarily say asleep through the night, or maybe wake up two in the morning to him, it would be day. So I would either walk three to four miles with him or take him swimming. Okay. Pretty much every, every night he, I know he went to Sunday school at Casha, which is a Jewish organization.
They also had a camp, which is wonderful. Uh, we enrolled them at a camp, but where. It was inclusion and he got to be around typically developing kids. I think that’s one of the strong suits that Cashin promotes and it’s wonderful. I’m
David Hirsch: happy he does mass job.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah. Oh, we also enrolled in like a two week camp.
Um, it was a, a Christian in the gelical camp. We’re good. How many Jewish kids get to go there? But, uh, You know, the thing is their, their heart was in the right place. And also too, it was a conclusion and, and it just, it was great, uh, that he did so many things and, but they accommodated, they even had him have his own cabin.
Cause it was like a little overwhelming for him to be with everyone I’m in there. And, uh, it was, uh, I remember one of the kids said, yeah, and he was like 10 or something. And he was like, Scott’s age or a camera on Scott was my mirror on his hand. He said, yeah, Scott. He was very astute. He said, yes, Scott communicates with his body and that’s coming from a 10 year old things right out.
That’s so true. And I always remember that. Yeah. Mean we had in home services with that. Yeah. And if you put a question for me earlier that it was getting really, really hard as he was getting older, we were blessed to say that during puberty, Scott actually mellowed it out a little bit more, but you know, we were worried cause it’s Okada because we’re.
After puberty. I don’t know why we’ll do that. He kind of didn’t bail out a little bit, but he was still eats as bigger and he was just smart enough to know that he was a big restaurant. Okay. So, uh, so that was challenging. And, uh, we said that we really, it was just too hard. And so we, we looked into options and, uh, we decided to look at options for, uh, placement, um, It was felt good that he was 14 and 14 and a half.
So little city, you had a place for him. It was probably the best decision we’ve ever made. It’s a bittersweet, of course it was heart wrenching, but we knew it was necessary. We knew that. As parents we’d be better parents to make that decision. And it sounds kind of counterintuitive because I think it really does a service where again, what I said is to say, Hey, you can’t go, uh, go in alone.
And, and then when we see Scott, like on the weekends, we see him once or twice a week. We’re about 40. We live in Skokie. So we’re about 45 minutes away from where Scott lives. But we make it efforts to see him. And when we see him, we’re like, we’re all of us, they’re all happy. Okay. But if he was living with us seven, that would be a different than that.
We love them, but yeah, it would be a different story. This is just the sheer exhaustion. We couldn’t do it anymore. And there’s the old saying too, that, uh, if you’re in a plane crash, God forbid. The parent is supposed to get the oxygen before the child. So the parent could then pop properly, take care of the child.
And I think that, I think the same is so true for saying, you know, a little city is a rocks.
David Hirsch: Oh, what a great analogy. And a thank you for sharing. I want to go back a little bit before we dive into what little city is all about and the decision that you and Andre made to have Scott go to school and be living at little city.
Okay. Discuss non verbal. And I’m wondering, um, even though he doesn’t speak as his main way of communicating, if you do hear any words.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah. Every now and then he’ll say a word in context, uh, and maybe a few years ago, or I don’t remember exactly when he, he said, uh, I hear, I see this like that. And I always remember that I’ll always treat him, but like he understands everything and he probably does.
And I think it’s so important for people to understand that they’re non verbal. It doesn’t mean that they don’t understand. And, uh, and I think it’s always better to raise the level to say, Hey, expect them that they understand and treat them with respect and dignity and that they do
David Hirsch: in their presence.
You could try referring to.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, absolutely.
David Hirsch: That’s a great point. Thank you. And, uh, was there something, um, that, uh, Ryan’s observed about his brother that you
Dan Tepperman: think is? Sure. Yeah, certainly Ryan, he wants to be in the health profession, I think since he turned his life around. Um, and he said something really profound to became vegan a couple of years ago.
And interestingly, what he said was that food addiction is hard because. You have to eat unlike illicit drugs or God forbid, whatever, you know, you can’t have any of that, but you have to be food. And I think part of the reason why he became vegan, uh, is that he’s really, again, he’s in control. Like he’s not going to eat ice cream because it has milk.
And, uh, and then whether you also said intuited the sensitivity to animals and the planet idea that veganism is, has least carbon footprint for our world. But when he said that a couple of years ago, I remember he said that when you’re, when you’re healthy yourself, you could focus on the world. You could focus on others, but if you’re not healthy, your focus is inward.
So yourself and that was very profound. It’s something I’ll always remember. And sure enough, he wants to be a doctor, uh, to truly help people.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, thanks for sharing. He’s 17.
Dan Tepperman: So yeah, seventh school. Yeah, we were in schools and he’s a senior now. He’s okay. I think looking at the colleges right now.
David Hirsch: So are you going from college to college application?
Dan Tepperman: He wants to run out of the cross country team. Um, and unfortunately he’s, he’s not one of the fastest runners as a result of the. Wants to go to a school that will let people does wrong. And, and I like his vision that it’s not where you are now. It’s, you know, me being four years after running away, notice how fast it will be.
And I think that’s really a Testament to him and his, his what he, what he stands for. Uh, so I, I really respect
David Hirsch: that. Excellent.
You were making reference to some of the challenges that you encountered. And I’m wondering if problem, if you can recall some of the situations that I think we’ve talked about previously, I remember that, uh, I think you’d mentioned that, uh, Scott was bar mitzvah. Yes. And, uh, the synagogue was very supportive of your family in that situation, but something changed somehow after that it’s like the relationship was the, uh,
Dan Tepperman: you know, I, again, I think, you know, I remember where we took Scott for the, uh, the practice we have, like practice, like the date we’re actually his pictures like that.
The day before the service. And I remember he literally would like I up and down and shake the whole temple. The temple was like moving. So I think, I think up until 13, we really felt, yeah. But after that, and it was not as much, and I don’t want to mention the name plays. I don’t want to incriminate anybody, but we were still factful at this, uh, Yeah, and I think that’s true actually kind of inspired me to become an advocate.
I am always an advocate. Synagogues are, there’s a whole movement to make Sydney ours, truly inclusive, and we borrowed one other temple now. Uh, it was wonderful and they have an inclusion committee. And as soon as I joined the temple, boom was like, I made the call. It’s like, one of them was art and people like, I hated that and down, I don’t want to be on the committee.
Um, but again, that’s my passion. And I guess, uh, again, Scott’s my trainer and, and I wrote down the teacher because, you know, I really implore our parents to think about that their, their children are teachers because you, you become different. It’s like a, a road that you’re taking another road that you’re, you didn’t think you were going to take.
So I wrote now is, is I look at it as a, as an honor and a privilege to give voice to the voiceless and to be an advocate. And I know, uh, currently with the temple, I built what we belong to. They have all philosophy that we want to praise in their own way and that people can actually be noisy and services, but yet.
They say that as a parent, you know, if your kid’s like screaming, of course get them out of there. But if they’re just making noises, happy noises that they love the prayers. That’s okay. And that’s the thing with autism. You never know what to expect from that only day to day mode, the moment to moment, and you can be sitting one day and boom, he’ll jump out.
But anyway, we was sitting down and there’s a song called show him, Rob, which is, you know, The idea of peace. It’s so important to in any religion. I think we all, all could use peace and I know he made a, he cut his hands and he made like what looks to be like the world many looked up and that’s pretty profound.
That’s something I’ll never forget. I, uh, told, uh, the rabbi that he mostly had a tear, you know, because that’s his, one of his favorite and, uh, And that’s something I’ll never forget. Um, but yet we’ve tried to bring him stuff. So apparently there was a concert I should see you were familiar that, uh, they had a concert and there was an opening of the, a wing, uh, educationally and that beautiful mural of a Jewish history of 5,000 years of murals.
Beautiful. And, uh, so anyway, there was noodle kugel there. Yeah. And Scott Love that noodle coat. Um, and so every single time we taken him back, he couldn’t sit. For services cause these things, man, where is that noodle? You both. Uh, and we even took them over. Okay. We’ll bring them for a nice slightly services, some Catora where people dance with the Torah, but this is a little scary.
They literally, you know, they have a whole, the tour is like around. Let me open the tour. And Scott was in the middle of it. It’s this is not good. He could be like red Rover. Well through the Torah, but I was able to, I literally had get them underneath the tour. I mean, we laugh, but then he was looking for the frugal.
So it’s just like, he’s very welcome where we are now. What’s the name of the BJ bee it’s in Deerfield. And there’s a, it stands for something that Joshua Elohim. I can never really remember people. It was called BJB. Okay. So he’s always welcome, but the fact is he doesn’t really want to be there, but one of these days we’ll come back and maybe five years, 10 years.
Uh, and that’s the thing as a parent, you, you never give up hope and you never give up trying. And you just say what one day? One day. So you mentioned
David Hirsch: he’s nonverbal. Does he use a keyboard or anything? Yeah.
Dan Tepperman: Does, um, he has a thing called it’s called an accident. 1000. It’s a company called them. Print run.
Rural MC is the company they’re in Western Ohio. Not that it’s that important where it is and what it is is it’s a speech device in the cause we, for years we tried using like packs like pictures, but unfortunately Scott, our son wasn’t able to discriminate. He couldn’t tell a difference between an Apple or a baseball.
As an example, they’re both round are two different things. So as an example, So he had trouble discriminating. So this, what he’s learned to do is it’s a call down lab, which stands for a language acquisition through motor planning. And the idea has got an analogous to a bit of learning, how to type, you know, so in other words, you don’t even, you know, with a position and on a keyboard, so you can psych really fast, but if you have to look a biggie, whatever.
And it’s funny. I don’t even remember the order, but I might thinkers know the order. If you notice something, you don’t really think about the letters, but you just kind of know your fingers know. And is it a certain transference? Same is true. The idea is that it’s a position it’s based on blue linguists, like a core words, core, key words, and you press one word.
And there’s another thing. And it’s hard to really explain, but that’s a slow process because of his intellectual disability. But at the same time that he has his, the rest of his life to use it, unfortunately, because it’s a device, it tends to break.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Or
Dan Tepperman: not, you know, things happen. Um, but he had it for five years, so we’re working on getting it right.
Other device, uh, for him. So, but overall, yeah, we’re at time, we’re hoping he knows where to eat box. Cause that’s one of his favorite things to do. He loves eating, uh, loves eating. So, uh, And that’s true. I know when we take them to a restaurant, other people’s food is fair game to him.
David Hirsch: I’m hoping when you say other people’s food, you mean you are table?
Dan Tepperman: No. Anybody. So, uh, yeah, so I mean, I care on the parents a little bit. Oh yeah. So when we’re there, we literally have to. Because he’s fast, you know, you know, like little we’re walking into like somehow and like stretch Armstrong or something, whatever like that. Almost like cartoon character. He could literally go and take someone’s role or something and they’ll see his hand come out of nowhere.
Um, so yeah. Uh, but yeah, we bring them to restaurants and he’s actually very good at, you know, we, uh, our goal is really for him. It’s just to be out in public as much as, as we can. And I, I think, and I’ve heard some of your early podcasts and I, and I think it was well said that as a father, as a parent, we are ambassadors for special needs.
Cause we bring them on public. And it’s interesting. Autism used to be one in 10,000. Now it’s one in one 50, but four out of five are males. So really about one 30, three it’s like you think about like one is a thousand, not a one and 33. That’s crazy. Um, but it’s becoming more and more in the world that people understand.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering what impact Scott situations had on Ryan or the rest of your family for that matter?
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, it was hard, you know, Ryan knew intellectually that we had our hands literally full and I always included Ryan. I say that to him, but you know, with the blocks I would take or swimming, you know, I would always include them, but Ryan didn’t want to go and.
After he turned like eight, eight, he started gaining weight and, and, uh, and I think he used food as Ryan. Did I say Ryan? Yes. Ryan started gaining weight. I think, you know, kids, what’s the word food is kind of a control item and that something they control. And I think maybe Ryan’s life maybe felt out of control having a brother Scott.
So it was very difficult. So we getting quite a bit of weight. And I think when he was heavy, he felt a little depressed. But, um, since it’s got moved a little city, when Scott was 14, one of the benefits of Scott going, the little cities, we were really able to focus on Ryan. Cause that’s part of the fallout.
I mean, you’re dealing with such a challenging situation, but the fall is within your typically or other typically developing child or children that you have to be cognizant of. So that was challenging, but Ryan turned his life around and he said, yeah, I’m going to. Well, I, I should say, this is one thing I want to say as a, as a parent, a good parent teaches as a teacher, but the best way to teach is not to preach is to show.
And by example, by example, because the kids see what you do, you could say, ah, let’s see your parents drinks. I’m not one who does that. As an example, you shouldn’t drink or do whatever and they see you drinking. What’s going to happen. So obviously see, I don’t drink. Uh, and obviously Brian doesn’t, uh, But yeah, I would run, I run a lot and that, and that helped me cope.
I think exercise is a, it helped help me cope. And then AF when Scott went to little sick, I belong to the Evanston running club. And every week they have interval training where you run on the track. Have Ryan came with me and I introduced him with a guy who was rail thin and he runs fast marathons.
Yeah. When I graduated college, I was overweight and it’s, I can’t even believe that. So Ryan. Saw that, that, that, Hey, this is possible, but in one year, Ryan lost 60 pounds. Uh, and he’s a captain of the cross country team. It’s just, just an amazing turnaround, even that at, um, yeah, what’s the running club. He was kinda like, Oh, you’re the guy where the kid that did that.
I mean, it’s, it’s kinda like, wow, and this is a journey because it’s all the decisions you do and make it, it’s a thing over time. All of the things Ryan tried and everything else.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing about your decisions, the place Scott at little city, because you and Audrey are the parents of two boys, even though it’s, I was like a disproportion of your time and energy was coming to Ord Scott on what to do with Scott, how to handle that situation.
And you knew at an early age that Ryan was struggling, your younger son was struggling, you know, along with yourselves and that decision, you know, with the benefit of hindsight now, It has turned out to be a blessing, especially in Ryan’s life. And I remember in the very, very first interview that I did with Randy Lewis, who has three children and their middle child, their only son, Austin, who has autism.
Now he’s in his late twenties. They made the decision early on that the world was not going to revolve around Austin. Right. But they were raising three children, including their two daughters. And that there had to be some balance in their lives. Yeah, and everybody has to figure out how to get that balance in their lives, because you don’t want to focus a disproportionate amount of your time and resources all and your one child only to realize perhaps years later decades later, that I wish I would have put up, done something different based on how your other children are dealing with the overall situation.
So I admire you and Audrey for the decision you’ve made and there’s little proof in the pudding now. Even though it’s not been that many years, Ryan’s only 17, right. That he’s really coming into his own in Boston and as a result.
Dan Tepperman: Absolutely. And then the other thing I wanted to is really acknowledge Audrey because it was literally, we had a double team and we had to divide and conquer and I was more with Scott just because vile and ABI was, you know, her job was to be with Ryan.
I mean, Ryan loved Legos. I know. I remember if he would miss one Lego and leave go crazy. Or I stepped on a few goes there. That’s not fun either, but, uh, I always knew, wow. Ryan could build those labels. It’s something I could ever do. And that is amazing. Like I knew he had such a woman has such a wonderful mind.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s, um, talk about special needs and a little bit beyond your own experience. Yeah, I’m focused on little city. Um, what is little city, uh, who served and, um, why did you consider a little city the best alternative to some of the others? Perhaps if you chose? I don’t
Dan Tepperman: think we even really considered any others, believe it or not.
Okay. It sounds kinda crazy, but I really lie. We visited the campus and I think the campus is a really great selling point that, wow, it’s a pool. Scott was the story. Yeah. And I like the idea of a campus and in a way I kind of thought to myself, well, Scott’s, you know, is comforting to me and he was 14 and a half, but you kind of say, it’s like, he’s going away to school or almost like a campus.
And of course, you know what it is, but that, that was comforting to me, that he was going to have going in high school is like a campus setting. And the other thing too, is that a little city, they were able to build a village children’s village. So when Scott moved there, he shared a room, but then about three or four months after he moved or maybe a year, I can’t remember exactly, but he lives in the folio home now and he has his own room and they have a state of the art, sensory room, a big, big backyard.
And so I really liked the space also, too. I was comforted, you know, as a child at 14, he was on a campus. Cause then he was more of a runner. And I, the idea if he was in a house near a main street, that would be a little scary. Uh, although now I think he can handle it cause he’s older and a little more mellow, but then.
And he was more of a runner. Um, I thought that
David Hirsch: that is important too. Okay. So just to put it in perspective, um, Scott moved a little city that 14 or 14 and a half and he’s 22 now. So it’s been about five or going on six.
Dan Tepperman: Right,
David Hirsch: right. And, um, what type of, um, expectations did you have initially compared to what the experience has actually played out to be?
Dan Tepperman: Let me think about that. Um,
David Hirsch: So it must’ve been a big decision for you and Audrey to say maybe Scott would be better off. Maybe Ryan would be better off. Maybe we as a family would be better off if Scott was living somewhere else, a little city game,
Dan Tepperman: that something, you know, the other thing too is we did like everything amazingly.
I think when we applied, I think the funding. Because it had to be through DHS funding and it was unbelievable. It came, it was like in three days, I thought we’d have to wait like years. I had no idea, but there was a that I think the funding has to happen and then a bed has to be available. And it just, uh, I was shocked.
I, I didn’t expect that, but I think the fact is that we tried everything. Everything was able to be documented and that. Having Scott moved a little city was a, uh, was a, it was a choice because we, we tried to do, we did everything. We weren’t able to really meet his needs. I think. And the other thing too, is another thing I want to tell other parents you’re still parents.
So that’s something that really is important. No, that you’re still parents. That, that just because if they’re not an adult, they live away from you. They’re still going to love you. Right. One thing I could say about Scott is he has no, maybe because of a disability, he has no resentment and he lives in the present.
And again, to me, I look at him as a teacher in the sense that he has a certain, he has challenges, don’t get me wrong, but he really, he lives in the present anytime. So he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he never judges.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that’s a, an insight or a blessing, um, as well, because of. His disability was a little bit different.
Perhaps there might be some resentment or he might be sort of wondering, what am I doing here? Or why am I not with my brother, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Dan Tepperman: No, he doesn’t think that way. Right. But just there is comforting, right. It’s comforting to me.
David Hirsch: So was this the most difficult decision you had to make?
Would you look back on it or maybe not? It was a
Dan Tepperman: heart wrenching decision. Uh, but it’s something we knew we had to do it, I guess it was finished. I’ll never forget that. It’s funny. I remember the whole weekend. Oh, we were, was going a little city. I just remember everything about it. Uh, but I remember even when we went land, it was like back home and it was like, certainly, certainly, but, uh, Yeah, I have no regrets.
I have no regrets.
David Hirsch: Well, I’m pleased to hear that it’s turned out as well as it has. Sometimes little city is a perfect fender, great alternative. And there were still going to be some transitions he’s only 20. Right? Right. So he’s still getting a lot of educational services and I’m not sure exactly how that works if he just transitions from being in the school.
Here, what else he to beyond do you have some anticipation?
Dan Tepperman: So actually he, uh, Scott does not go to the school. Like you’re a little city. He lives in a little city, but he goes to the Kirk school, which is part of the NSA as CEO, it’s Northwest suburban school system and a suite, but had Scott’s boss there, but we are looking at through adult placement and, um, we’re in that process now.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, best wishes. Maybe we’ll do another interview, uh, years down the road to circle back and see where you guys were at. So I’m wondering under the banner of advice, or are there some important takeaways that come to mind and raising a child with differences?
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, I would say it just like wouldn’t, I’m just wanting to go back a little bit when Scott had his bahmitzvah, which was pretty amazing.
I’ll never forget that the idea that the tour portion was. Well, the parting of the red seat. And it’s a lady about keeping faith and taking one step at a time. I remember giving that a sermon. Yeah. But when it’s like the raise a child with special needs, and I really think it’s just having faith and taking one step at a time.
And, and, and that’s, that’s really the way to go is to follow your heart. Just plot ahead, one step at a time, and your chances are you’re going to make mistakes, but you’ll, you you’ll recover and just kinda. Be persistent. And I, I think, uh, I think those are the traits that are so important persistence and, um, flexibility, you know?
Yeah. You have to be adaptable. Those are important.
David Hirsch: Well, I think some of the decisions that have to be made seemed like it would be overwhelming decisions. And part of, I think what you’re saying is don’t be fearful of making the decision because if it’s not the right decision or it didn’t turn out.
That’s okay. Right. Just move on, adapt. Right. Be persistent and flexible. Right. Don’t be afraid of making a bad mistake, right. Because this is life. Right.
Dan Tepperman: And the other thing too, is nothing is perfect. I’m a little city as wonderful as it is a isn’t perfect. In a sense. There’s so many challenges of. Of direct support workers that they’re under paid, uh, not so much by a little city.
It’s just the way, the way things are. And that inspires me. And I was certainly like that to network with your group in terms of how to advocate a politically, wait, I’m hoping that politics could agree, you know, what can we do for, for the disabled? And when you think about it too, is it’s disability is more common than we think because you know, people get strokes.
People- we’re over time can have this ability. And I think it’s kind of like a Canary in a coal mine will ideas. Uh, our society is recharged by how we take it the most vulnerable. And, uh, certainly I would be interested in being an advocate, not only for Scott, but for disability in general, to help the city and the places that have to take care of people, disability is to help get more funding.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network.
Dan Tepperman: Well, uh, I was asked and I was honored and I think it’s part of my commitment to not only my son, but, uh, just to be, uh, an advocate. And certainly if I could help, if someone could listen to me and be inspired, I feel very honored and, and certainly anyone in your network and reach, reach out to me.
Uh, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But at the same time, I think the key thing is just being committed. And when your commitment thing, you know, things, things work out when you’re committed, love and commitment.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thank you. And thank you for being part of the network. Let’s give a special shout out to Shawn Jeffers, the executive director at little city and his staff are putting us in contact.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Dan Tepperman: I would say. As dire of a situation. Yeah. You think it is, you know, I used to think, you know, I’m not going to allow myself to say why me, why us not to talk Pollyanna ish, just to be happy. You can still be happy. You could still be happy having a child with special needs.
And the other thing I also wanted to say, just remember is we got to live the moments of, for example, uh, when an I would tie Scott shoes, he doesn’t tie shoes. He’ll rub my back. Or I’ll take it for a walk. He’ll reach his hand out for me and hold my hand. These are very special moments. And I think too, our society is so driven for excellence.
My son does this and that, but when you have a son with special needs, you know, having a son rubbed your back.
David Hirsch: It’s wonderful to celebrate the small moment.
Dan Tepperman: Yeah, exactly. So that’s what I would. Well, my final parting words.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, thank you. So if somebody wants to learn more about little city or to contact you, what’s the best way about going to do that?
Dan Tepperman: Oh, uh, they could reach me on my cell or email would be fine.
David Hirsch: Okay. Do that to you and a little city as this littlecity.org. What I remember. Yeah. Well, Dan, thank you for taking the time and many insights as reminder, Dan is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a Metro father as part of this special fathers network mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation, your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network dad, the dad podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.
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Sure. Just subscribed for three. So we’ve got a reminder. Each time an episode is produced, Dan. Thanks again.
Dan Tepperman: My pleasure. Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
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