A Niche for Every Child

by:  Craig Peterson

Andrew Peterson middle school XCountry

All children need a special activity in their lives – something to call their own. And especially those who’ve experienced trauma.

Many of these opportunities happen through school. For some it’s team sports. For others it might be music or theater.

In the case of my son Andrew, he found his niche through running.

Like thousands of children each year – in spite of 25 years of awareness, his birth mother drank alcohol during pregnancy and then abandoned him. The result was permanent brain damage and a lifetime intellectual disability on top of early trauma.

But Andrew had a gift – one that many would overlook. His smile was infectious. It represented an inner spirit and a desire to succeed.

In second grade he desperately wanted to play games at recess yet couldn’t understand the rules. His classmates sent him away.

To keep busy and out of mischief, he started walking laps around the playground at my suggestion. Others immediately took notice of the “special” activity. At least one student walked with him most days.

Soon the walking turned into running. By the end of third grade, Andrew ran further than any of his peers during the end-of-the-year fitness challenge.

The following fall I asked Andrew to run a 3K with me – a family event at the conclusion of my older daughter’s middle school cross country meet. My eight-year-old son accepted my invitation.

Over the 1.8 miles, I encouraged him to maintain my pace and not stop. He did just that.

The boy with the great smile also had great endurance. He was in control.

The next year at the same family race, Andrew was far too polite and stayed near his 40-something father until I told him to push ahead. He was now a better runner than me.

When middle school started, Andrew joined the cross country team. Even with the protections afforded students in special education, the coach questioned his ability to follow directions and not become a nuisance at practice. I simply told the man, “My son isn’t going anywhere. He wants to run.”

At the first meet, Andrew surprised everyone – including me. He was the second runner in for his team of 30 runners – a position he held the entire season. For the first time at school, he felt included.

To provide extra opportunities to compete in both the fall and spring, I checked out Special Olympics. Over the next six seasons, his confidence grew.

By the end of high school, Andrew earned four varsity letters – the first athlete at his charter school to accomplish such a feat.

Now he’s competing to be on the cover of Runner’s World magazine. And in the process, he’s given voice to thousands. The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon has noticed – asking him to speak to participants before this year’s race while encouraging financial contributions to the Attachment and Trauma Network.

All of our children – like my Andrew – deserve a niche of their own. And a positive one at that!


D. Craig Peterson is a retired ATN Board Director. You name it, Craig has a story to share in achieving success and learning from mistakes as he raised six children to adulthood...all while maintaining faith and believing in unconditional love. He understands the ups and downs of learning challenges, special education, psychotropic medications, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, sexual abuse, juvenile justice, residential placement and so much more. In his upcoming book Adopting Faith: A Father's Unconditional Love, Peterson details his journey in raising six children who brought unbelievable challenges from their birth families and the foster care system. His parenting is a combination of typical and unconventional strategies." His blog is here: https://adoptingfaithafathersunconditionallove.org/

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