Hanrahan honored for showing love through autism

By COLBY DENTON Staff Writer
Posted 5/16/18

A local 12-year old, Nathan Hanrahan, recently earned an award due to his caring and watchful attitude toward his older brother, Luke, who has autism.

Due to the seventh-grader’s kindness …

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Hanrahan honored for showing love through autism


A local 12-year old, Nathan Hanrahan, recently earned an award due to his caring and watchful attitude toward his older brother, Luke, who has autism.

Due to the seventh-grader’s kindness and care shown to Luke, the award was called the “Agape Autism Sibling Award,” with Nathan as its first recipient.

“I got this award for being a good brother to Luke,” Nathan said. “I do this by supporting him, helping him with school and just having a good time with him.”

Dr. Kenneth Pittman with Agape Behavioral Health in Chattanooga, presented the award to Nathan.

“Nathan got this award because Dr. Pittman has observed his treatment of Luke at his appointments over the last three years, and was really impressed,” stated the boys’ mother, Stephanie Hanrahan.

“Ever since Nathan was little, he has been like a big brother to Luke and that has carried on for years,” said the boys’ father, Matt Hanrahan.

The family has visited Dr. Pittman ever since Nathan had an accident that involved a chain-link fence cutting into his eyeball five years earlier.

“That happened on his birthday, and it was pretty scary,” Matt added. “But Nathan’s come through a lot and he’s risen above it while also caring for Luke.”

Since autism is so pervasive for both the individual and the family, it can be difficult to remember that it doesn’t define the person affected by it.

“Luke has his own unique and wonderful personality. He’s smart, organized, protective and makes us laugh often,” Stephanie said. “He loves DVDs, swimming, being outside and enjoys food more than most people I know!”

According to Matt, Dr. Pittman was surprised to see how caring Nathan was for Luke, which is what inspired the award. He said he and Stephanie couldn’t be more proud to have their son be the first recipient of an award!

A peer tutor at Cleveland Middle School, Nathan is highly regarded by his instructors for his level of empathy. Upon graduating, he hopes to work as either a special education teacher, an actor or an engineer.

“Luke and I are really close. We’ll watch movies, throw a ball around and obviously fight like typical brothers,” Nathan said. “‘Veggie Tales’ is his favorite movie series.”

Even when Nathan was only 4 years old, he was trying to work with Luke by using flash cards.

Stephanie said that while autism has its negative aspects, it also has positives.

“It’s really taught us a lot. It’s difficult on families. You have to let go of expectations you may have had, and it’s difficult because you don’t want your child to have any challenges,” Stephanie said. “But, on the other hand, it’s caused us to be open about different ways of learning, different ways of looking at things – and gets us to think outside the box.”

She explained that little things are big things with Luke, which makes milestones slightly different for them, although they are celebrated profusely when met!

Treatment for autism varies between applied behavioral analysis therapy all the way to speech, play and occupational therapy. Certain supplements are also available, and Luke has had gains in many areas, with Stephanie stating, “You just keep trying.”

“The more you are around Luke, the more you realize that he’s very aware of what’s going on,” Matt said. “His receptive communication is much higher than his expressive communication, so he finds different ways to communicate with us, like through movie quotes.”

Numerous organizations exist to support children with autism as well as their families, such as Autism Speaks, but locally, Clevelanders have the option of going to LUDIC, which is the Lee University Developmental Inclusion Classroom.

LUDIC serves students on a full-day, half-day or part-time basis, with the funding base being generated through contracts with area school systems and with individual families on a per-child basis.

In the past, Nathan has volunteered at the LUDIC Center with Luke attending. Both Stephanie and Matt stressed how helpful the program is, and encouraged anyone interested in helping the fight against autism to donate to programs like it.

Another positive program that isn’t autism specific, but focuses on developmental disorders for preschoolers, is United Way’s Signal Centers. Both parents stress their effectiveness as well.

“I couldn’t have gotten this award without Luke, and it’s just good to have him in my life,” Nathan said.


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