The road has not always been easy for Evan Stapleton — he received an autism diagnosis at 3 years old — but he has never let it hold him back.
An incoming senior at Sobrato High, Stapleton began speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavioral analysis at the age of 3, totaling 35 hours of therapy a week until he was 10 years old.
There were multiple therapies Stapelton had to take on. Starting with Speech therapy, which is an evaluation performed by a trained speech-language pathologist, who helps a patient with a range of communication problems.
Another type was Occupational therapy, which offers help with cognitive, sensory or physical problems. Occupational therapists assist individuals through a variety of exercises to help patients whose lives are affected.
Stapelton took part in Applied behavioral analysis (aba), a therapy targeting the improvement of a person’s behavior. That could be a variety of different skill sets such as communication, reading, academics and daily tasks.
“My parents did everything that they could for me,” Stapleton said. “They got me speech therapy and I came out of it and did not let it define me.”
While Evan wasn’t getting the help he needed in school, he leaned on his parents for help. The Morgan Hill School District refused to pay for services for Evan to have an equal opportunity to learn as a student.
Evan’s parents, Sue and Jeff Stapelton had no choice but to sue the school district, fighting for their son’s civil rights to get the help he needed. A case that Evan and his parents ended up winning, allowing for Evan to receive help during school hours.
“I was glad my parents were able to fight for me to get me help, it was definitely needed,” said Stapelton. “They paid for the lawyer; all of my therapies; they did everything that they possibly could for me to be successful. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
School has been a struggle with autism. Evan has to learn in different ways than most people, but he overcomes this challenge by asking more questions when he needs help and getting repetitive, differentiated instruction.
“I learn differently than others, which is OK,” Stapleton said. “I’ve learned to accept it.”
Water and the sun are two things Stapleton loves, which is what led him to water polo. At the age of 10, he was introduced to the sport by a friend, who took him to his first water polo camp.
Stapleton has been playing for the San Jose Water Polo Foundation ever since. As a hole-set, he is considered a target in the pool; not only does he swim the most, but he has the best opportunity to score from close range.
“I think he handles himself very well considering water polo is not the easiest sport,” said Doug Leresche, San Jose Water Polo Foundation coach. “You have to keep fighting and Evan is very reliable at that position.”
Stapleton played his two first years of high school at Valley Christian before transferring to Sobrato for his junior season. His leadership in the pool landed him as one of the captains three seasons in a row, voted in by his team. Landing himself as team captain for two years at Valley Christian; his junior season at Sobroto he was a co-captain.
“Evan brings strength, experience and analytical thinking to our team,” said Dale Dowd, Sobroto head coach. “Evan’s lack of ego and willingness to change up strategies to create team success is key to our team winning.”
For Stapelton, being voted by his team to be captain has been an experience he will not forget. He continues to show leadership and experience in the pool, which make him a candidate for his upcoming season, noted by Dowd.
“Being asked to be captain was a monumental moment for me because I felt that I was able to lead the team,” said Stapleton.
Stapleton has not only found success in the pool, but in the classroom as well with a 3.8 GPA. He’s been looked at by the University of Pennsylvania, Oregon Tech and Mount St. Mary’s. With that in mind, he looks to continue his playing career in college.
“Being a student-athlete and doing what I love while representing my school is absolutely amazing to do and I’m proud to do it,” said Stapleton. “I am hoping that I can play in college.”
Despite the challenges that he has had to face, nothing seems to be slowing him down. Stapleton credits his parents for all they have done for him and he hopes to continue to make them proud through his perseverance.
“Not everyone has been as lucky as Evan has,” said his mother, Sue Stapleton. Stapeltons’ parents took it upon themselves to do everything they could to fight for Evans’ needs.
“I think what gets him through is his grit because he doesn’t give up. We always told him, ‘School is the root to your success and sport.’”
Stapleton has a goal to become an occupational therapist in pediatrics when he gets out of college.
“Autism has been a blessing in disguise,” said Stapelton.
Autism gave Stapelton motivation to prove to people that he will not let this disability affect how he performs and goes through life. Stapelton looks at it as a positive, and continues to show the world that you can be successful even with a disability.