A reporter once asked Jonathan Peterson-Bernhard how long he has been figure skating. Jonathan answered, “About 15 minutes.” Indeed, Jonathan, a young man with autism, has been training for much longer than that. He was introduced to the sport in 2012 when his former recreation coordinator enrolled her residents in a weekly therapeutic skating class. Jonathan had never skated before but picked it up quickly. He took to it so well that in the spring of 2016, his coach invited him to train for competition in the 2017 Special Olympics New York State Winter Games, held in Poughkeepsie. Not only did he compete, Jonathan was selected out of 1,000 athletes to run the last leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run to light the Cauldron to begin the Winter Games.
His family was initially concerned about how Jonathan would react to the lights, loud music, crowd, and cheering of competition. They quickly discovered there was no need to worry, he was a born performer. His mother Karla said, “When he steps out on the ice his face lights up and its sheer joy!” In Jonathan’s words, “I just love to boogie!” Overall, Jonathan has earned three gold medals and one silver medal performing to songs such as; “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind and Fire, and “American Bandstand.”
When Jonathan was accepted into Living Resources’ Day Community Opportunities Program (DCOP) last year, the Coronavirus was just starting to impact the region. Due to COVID regulations, his residence stopped allowing home visits. Although it was a necessary policy, his family felt that Jonathan wouldn’t understand it. Karla said, “he would have felt like we abandoned him.” It also would have stopped Jonathan’s skating classes which would have been damaging to his emotional wellbeing. As an athlete with Autism who lives to skate, the need for consistency and routine was critical. Karla decided to bring him home to live permanently so he could continue his training, but she knew she would need help.
As his DCOP manager Heather Henderson puts it, “Ulster was creating our Zoom Room and we assured Karla that we would assist her with keeping his routine as normal as possible. We worked together to use consistent language when discussing any needed changes with him. I let Karla know that we were there to support Jonny and the family any way we could!” Karla said, “Living Resources staff has been supportive of Jonathan through all of his transitions. The staff genuinely care about Jonathan, challenge him, and support him. We are truly grateful for all you do for my son and out family. We are so blessed to be a part of the Ulster County Program.”
Jonathan has blossomed and is now thriving at home. His DCOP team noticed that he has become very social, offering insights and engaging in conversations with his peers. He has shared many stories about his training and Special Olympics’ adventures. This has inspired the group to look into working with the Special Olympics in the future. Many of his friends have expressed interest in track and field and swimming competitions