Phillips leave school, not teacher
May 22 will be a milestone for Houston High School seniors as they don caps and gowns for graduation. Tyler Phillips will join them as they leave high school but he will keep his teacher forever.
Tyler, 21, was diagnosed with Mosaic Trisomy 22, a rare gentic disorder, after his birth in 1992. After years of caregiving and much research, his mother, Allyson Leitner, now believes he was misdiagnosed and actually has Emanuel’s Syndrome. No matter the diagnosis, his condition left him disabled, though not to the extent originally thought.
“The geneticist we were referred to basically shook his head because he never thought Tyler would ever be able to do anything,” Leitner said. “He proved the doctor wrong. He crawled, walked and can let caregivers know what and when he wants and needs something.”
Tyler has been a student in the Houston School District since age 3 and has had several different teachers, but one, Tracy Sullivan, has been a constant in his life.
“Tracy has had him for ten of the 18 years he has been in school,” Leitner said.
She’s actually been with him since his birth.
Leitner and Sullivan have been best friends for so many years, neither can remember a time they weren’t and they’ve shared all the important moments.
“She was my bridesmaid in my first wedding,” Leitner said. “I was her Matron of Honor in her wedding. She was there when (daughter) Allie was born. She was there when Tyler was born and has been there ever since. She even introduced me to my current husband after screening him with me and my children in mind. Tyler is very comfortable with her and loves her dearly. She is his second mama.”
Sullivan previously worked at the Department of Human Services and made a career change into Education, first teaching fifth grade and then getting certified for Special Education. Sullivan loves working with children but added, “Tyler was one of the reasons I wanted this position.”
She teaches Living Skills, helping children with disabilities learn basic skills like cooking, cleaning and laundry as well as social interaction and manners.
The personal bond she has with Tyler gives her an inside track on his training level.
“Tyler and I do have a special connection,” Sullivan said. “I know he loves me but sometimes I know he gets frustrated with me. I know he is able to do a lot more than he lets on and he knows I know. His mom gives in to his wants a lot easier than I do. She’s supposed to. He’s stubborn and hard-headed but most of the time I’m more stubborn and hard-headed.”
Their relationship continues outside of the classroom.
“She keeps him at her house or mine when I need to be able to do things,” Leitner said and Sullivan adds that its just a matter of course for old friends to be part of each other’s lives and families.
“I consider him mine just like my own,” Sulilvan said. “(Husband) Tim and and my girls are just as much a part of Tyler’s life as I am. I have learned a lot from him, probably more than he’s learned from me.”
Tyler will join the class of 2014 at graduation ceremonies Thursday, then head home to Starkville with his mother. Leitner is retiring from the school district this month as well.
“We will go home together,” Leitner said.
But Sullivan won’t be far away.
“He holds a special place in my heart and always will,” Sullivan said.
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About Lisa Voyles
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