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Ferndale Teen with Muscle Disease Wants to Develop Technology to Help Others

Garrett Lathrop giving treat to his dog

Garrett Lathrop throws his service dog Bergy a treat at Vanderyacht Park in Ferndale Thursday afternoon, July 7, 2011. Garrett is attending the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology or DO-IT program at the University of Washington on Saturday, July 16. - Philip A. Dwyer

MICHELLE NOLAN, Tuesday, Jul. 12, 2011, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

A rare congenital muscle disease prevents Garrett Lathrop from standing up for more than a few minutes, but not from standing tall for a week at a program in Seattle for scholars with disabilities.

Lathrop, who will be a senior at Ferndale High School, will return to the University of Washington on Saturday, July 16, to learn about career opportunities and to mentor newcomers in the DO-IT Program.

He was among a select group of newcomers selected last summer for his first participation in DO-IT, which stands for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology. It's funded by the state, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, with contributions from Boeing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor, among others.

Lathrop, 17, is the son of Amy and Mike Lathrop. He and his mother talked about the importance of DO-IT and how it has helped him become a more confident self-advocate. He has won gold medals in disability games competition, in such activities as wheelchair soccer and obstacle-course maneuvers.

Question: Garrett, you sure zip around well in that motorized wheelchair. What's your story?

Garrett: I use the chair to get around because I can't walk or bear weight on my legs for very long, or else I have to yell "timber!" I can't raise my arms very much or bend my elbows. But I love to swim, because my body is weightless in water and I can walk then. I love our visits to Lake Samish.

Amy: He was born with a form of arthrogryposis known as amyoplasia. Garrett was born without pectoral muscles and has little or no muscular growth (in his limbs).

Q: But this hasn't prevented you from becoming an honor student, right?

Garrett: I get A's and B's and I'll be full-time at Whatcom Community College next year in the Running Start program. I especially love math. I'm hoping to attend the University of Washington and major in business.

Q: How did you plug into DO-IT?

Garrett: I found out about it from Natalie Newman, Ferndale School District's occupational therapist. You have to apply for it and not everyone can be accepted, so I felt it was a real honor. We're mentored by adults with disabilities, and they're great volunteers. I'm really looking forward to participating again.

Q: What goes on?

Garrett: You learn about leadership, about academics, about career opportunities and make new friends. We went to places like the UW planetarium and Microsoft, too. I'm interested in owning my own business in a career involving technology, and how it can help people with disabilities.

Amy: At DO-IT they teach the kids self-advocacy, and it's wonderful because it gives them the confidence to deal well with the real world when they graduate.

Q: How does technology help you?

Garrett: I can use voice-recognition software to operate my laptop, which is very important for me. I've been doing that since fourth grade. You just have to enunciate really well. Last year I earned $300 following the DO-IT session by doing written evaluations of how well museums help provide access for people with disabilities.Q: You're quite a football fan, aren't you?

Garrett: I'm a big Ferndale Golden Eagles fan and I love the NFL and playing football video games.

Q: How do you play video games?

Garrett: I can use my hands to work the controls.

Amy: I remember a school game night where Garrett brought his Xbox. I came back to find a group of kids gathered around Garrett. They couldn't believe how well he could play.

Garrett: Hey, I didn't lose!