Imagine a world where you cannot talk to communicate. 

William McKie is a 17-year-old photographer, despite being diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome at birth and being diagnosed with nonverbal autism at about 3.

“I’m always thinking of ways to help him have some kind of relationship with the world and with others," Will’s mother, Kim Rising, said. “To communicate in his way – because there are lots of ways we communicate, we don’t just communicate verbally.”

Rising is the co-owner of two businesses, Rising Wellness Center and Art & Soul of Aiken. She also sculpts clay and has searched for a way to help Will express himself through art.

During her pursuit, she found photos that Will had taken and edited on her iPhone. She was impressed with the artistic edge of the photos and printed them. Now, the photos are on display and for sale in the children’s section of her art gallery.

“It’s just really neat for us to get a glimpse of his perspective of the world," Rising said. “Because, again, he’s nonverbal, so he doesn’t talk. And it’s a way for him to possibly feel like he has some purpose and that he is accomplishing something.”

Since the novel coronavirus outbreak there has been a disruption in all children's normal routines. Rising said the homeschooling adjustment aspect is twice as hard for special-needs children.

Rising's daughter, Caroline McKie, is now home from Augusta University and has been helping to homeschool Will. 

“It's best to help Will with school work when he's in a good mood," Caroline said. "I can tell when he wants to be left alone, or when he would be able to cooperate with me. He can't be forced to do anything."

Rising said sometimes it is challenging for Will to complete the paperwork sent home from Aiken High School. At home, there's less technology available compared to in the classroom, and his schedule structure has been disrupted.

Dr. Ann Marie Taylor is the principal of Horse Creek Academy and explained the importance of routines for special-needs children. Taylor has served as the 2008 S.C. Teacher of the Year and was the first Special Education teacher of the Year for South Carolina. 

"Students need structure and routine – especially students with disabilities," Taylor said. "The more you can structure time for work and time to play – the better. Consistency is key. I always establish norms for students – what do you expect from them? What do they expect from you? For nonverbal students, you can use picture symbols, too."

In Rising's case, picture symbols don't work as well for Will because he is very literal. For example, if he wants to go for a ride in the car, he will get Rising's purse or keys and take her to the car. Rising tries to use alternative ways to teach Will lessons.

One way Rising teaches Will responsibility is by allowing him to help walk their dogs. Will is 17 and is learning at about a fourth- or fifth-grade level.

“He likes school, and summers are always a challenge for us,” Rising said. “So, honestly, special-needs kids would really benefit from year-round schooling. That would be huge for them."

Rising continues looking for ways to keep her son active and learning.

Dr. Jay Rising described Kim's character by saying, "My wife is caring, loving and protective."

With a humble tone, Kim Rising said sometimes special-needs parents feel like they don't have a voice. 

“First and foremost, you’re parents,” Rising said. "My encouragement is for the parents to do the best that they can to get through this and help their child through this. To stay healthy, mentally and physically, that’s our priority. So with parents of special-needs kids, the focus should be on helping them cope with the fact that their schedule has been so disrupted. It’s hard to even know what they are making of all of this."

With Mother's Day here, Caroline shares a life lesson that she's learned from her mom. 

"No matter how bad things get, you can always start over again."

Michel'le Jackson Multimedia Journalist