If you go
What: 3rd Annual Southwest Washington Special Education Conference.
Details: Provides resources to families of children with special needs, ages birth to 21.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Prairie High School, 11500 N.E. 117th Ave., Vancouver.
Settling onto the living room sofa in his rural Battle Ground home, Andrew Bither rattles off his passions: cooking, video production and pottery. He presents two of his favorite pottery pieces and then retrieves his tablet to share three videos he’s produced.
But it’s his passion for cooking that is propelling him toward his future career. In September, the 20 year old will spend half-days at the culinary arts program at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver.
Bither has hurdled many obstacles to get here. He’s on the autism spectrum, and with that comes certain challenges.
He faced another challenge two years ago when his father suddenly passed away. His family struggled to meet his needs, and Bither was placed in the home of Vickie and Rick Jones, his foster parents. He’s had the support of family, teachers and specialists to smooth his path.
“Andrew is dear to my heart and has made unbelievable strides in his program,” said Annie Lamberto, his special education teacher at Prairie High School.
Lamberto is an organizer of the Southwest Washington Special Education Conference on Saturday at Prairie High School. The goal of the free conference is to provide resources to families of children with special needs from birth to age 21.
Bither refers to himself as a “super senior” at Prairie, where he’s attended since his freshman year. He spends mornings at school, and four afternoons a week he learns job skills at the Chop Shop, a Battle Ground barbershop, and the Oasis Mart gas station in Vancouver. He stocks shelves, sweeps and washes windows.
“I guess you could call me the cleanup boy,” he said during an interview Wednesday.
Bither has made significant strides since starting at Prairie. As a freshman, he stuck close to his teachers.
“I was kind of shy,” he said. “Who wouldn’t be on their first day at a new school? Now I’m all independent.”
He said his math skills also have improved. He credits that independence to Lamberto, his other teachers and his job skills experience.
“He’s had Annie (Lamberto) since ninth grade,” said Vickie Jones, his foster mom. “She’s really seen Andrew blossom.”
Although he lives with the Jones family, he regularly spends time with his mother, siblings and grandparents.
“They are a huge support for him and they adore him,” Lamberto said.
When Bither had a friend who was struggling in school, he told him: “Keep looking up. Try new things. Stay positive. You never know where it will take you.”
His own positive outlook and desire to overcome barriers has paved a way to a future working in a commercial kitchen.
Like many kids, his first culinary adventure was making mac and cheese from a box, but he progressed to more difficult recipes and now experiments in the kitchen. The tastiest food he’s made was chicken with his special ingredient: plenty of crushed garlic.
“It was golden brown. Just perfect,” Andrew said. “Pretty much everyone who tried it asked for more.”
Battle Ground High School video.