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Greek Community"From Struggle to Strength" is a Lesson in Hope and Positivity: Harry...

“From Struggle to Strength” is a Lesson in Hope and Positivity: Harry Psaros Recounts a Father’s Journey with Autism

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By Dorie Klissas, Special to the Hellenic News of America

Seventeen years ago, Harry Psaros’s son, Gus, was diagnosed with autism. He admits his wife Michelle, whom he has been happily married to for twenty-four years, was a lone voice toiling to identify the issues of her son’s condition. In denial, Psaros says he was a self-proclaimed resistor to reality. But after a pivotal moment, a birthday party to which his son was invited and was an outlier to the festivities, Psaros succumbed to the fact. “I felt like I was up on the ropes and going to swing back. Not only was I going to support my wife, but I was all in, and I was going to lead the charge.”

In the book “From Struggle to Strength: A Father’s Journey with Autism and the Power of Hope and Positivity,” Psaros shares a father’s perspective on when a child is diagnosed with autism. “I know now that it’s not a stigma but a path to improvement. Whether your child is mild, moderate, or severe, if you work with your spouse in unison and receive the diagnosis, you can start tapping into that process.”

In the book, Psaros offers advice on supporting a child on the spectrum to foster their successful development. He outlines the tools and mindset needed to help Gus, now 20, and his 18-year-old son, Max, thrive.

The book is short, allowing for a one or two-day read. “If you hand a belligerent father a ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Lord of the Rings,’ he is going to throw it into the garbage,” says Psaros, an executive neuroscience account specialist for AbbVie and top social media influencer for the University of Pittsburgh athletics.

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Harry Psaros with his family

In 2014, Psaros realized there was a need for the male perspective after speaking at The Autism Notebook Connection Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “It was the first time a father was speaking from their perspective on autism, and I noticed two, three, four mothers lining up after my talk, and they were emotional. Our child is slipping into the abyss, and we cannot get our husbands on board. Will you speak with them?”

As a self-professed over-caffeinated type A, Psaros was happy to intervene. “I had dinner with one, I had multiple cups of coffee, I was hung up by two on the phone, but the majority were struggling with the weight of the diagnosis, and their stoicism was them just thinking things out. That got me thinking there might be a book there.”

Two years ago, Psaros was the first father ever invited to speak at an Autism Caring Center’s Mother’s Day Conference. Once again, many mothers approached him, saying, “Your voice needs to be heard.” Cori Wamsley, CEO of Aurora Chorialis Publishing, was in the audience and agreed. That speech became the basis for the book, which, after launching in April 2024, has been exceptionally received, trending as the #1 new release in Amazon’s “Family and Parent” category.

Psaros got a signoff from his son, Gus, to proceed. “Gus realizes he has had an arduous journey, and it has toughened him. People can learn from the journey, so he was all in.”

Noting his wife, Michelle, is a bit more introverted, Psaros says she takes pride in knowing we are helping people. In the book, Psaros compares her to Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, in Kill Bill because he sees her as a modern-day warrior mom. “Nothing stops her from achieving her goal. She succeeded and blazed the trail for other mothers regarding autism.

Psaros also credits his family for supporting the journey. His father, the late George Psaros, was Gus’s best friend. “He would tell me everything is going to be okay, with a calming voice,” says Psaros, who also got help from his older brother, Michael Psaros, aunt, uncles, and cousins. “Make sure your support system is in place because there will be some very long days, and you need help,” says Psaros.

Originally from Weirton, West Virginia, Psaros has called McDonald, Pennsylvania, home for the past two decades. After Gus’s diagnosis at the Cleveland Clinic, the Psaros family received help through local services in Pennsylvania, which he says were more commonplace. When they needed an active support group, Psaros and his wife co-founded PALS, an organization for special needs students (which stands for acceptance, love, and support).

“The book is a primer on motivation, focused on the themes of hope, positivity, resilience, and grit,” says Psaros, who says you need all four to successfully navigate the journey with a child on the spectrum. “If a father was reading the book, I wanted him to lead the charge, to wake up every day with an optimistic attitude.”

According to Psaros, sight and vision are critical to supporting a child on the spectrum. He describes sight as having a 2% rule: “What will you do today to help your child improve? Whether it is introducing a new food or an activity of daily living, those tiny improvements can lead to big advances down the line.”

Psaros is a big fan of vision or envisioning possibilities. Early on, he did not know whether college for his son was possible. “You need a long-term vision to know if you can get that child into a functioning profession or what that child will be like for the rest of his life. We realized he could live on his own and succeed in college.”

Gus is now a Sophomore at Kent State University studying exercise physiology and is considering a career in physical or occupational therapy. “College has not been easy because he has struggled a bit academically and socially, but it has taught us that life for Gus is a marathon and not a sprint,” says Psaros. “Life will always be a challenge for us, but we are here to support him.”

Psaros’s younger son Max, 18, is a senior in high school and will play football next year for Allegheny College in Needville, Pennsylvania. Max, who had some autistic symptoms early on but worked through them, has been an incredible sibling to his brother, says Psaros. “They had similar friends, and Max was pivotal in helping Gus socially.” Psaros reminds parents to focus on their neurotypical kids just as much as they do on their children with autism.

Psaros says his Greek background is about faith and family. “Even when I questioned my faith, I still felt comfort. I was trying to rationalize why we were in this position and realized I should consider it an honor. God had chosen us for a reason.”

His last advice comes from the Greek word Philotimo, which encompasses “do the right thing.” “To me, if you are breathing air, you should be helping others,” says Psaros. “I do not doubt that anyone reading his book has others in their community with kids who are newly diagnosed with autism. Don’t sit on the couch. Reach out and help these people. Make an impact. Give back without expecting anything in return. Philotimo.”

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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