He dreams of being a marine scientist, but needs special tutoring to help him read

Adrián Gutiérrez-Elbers rubs his eyes and looks up from the ground, his face lighting up when the topic of conversation turns to one of his favorite hobbies.

“I saw a barracuda,” says the 16-year-old, cheerfully recounting a recent scuba diving excursion with his father. Underwater creatures fascinate him, and he hopes to be a marine biologist one day. Sitting in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pembroke Pines, he talked about what he might see if he traveled to the bottom of the ocean.

“Probably a ghost fish,” he said, referring to eel-like creatures with transparent skin that they have rarely been observed alive. “I have to do some research on that.”

For Gutierrez-Elbers, a freshman at Charles W. Flanagan High School, research consists mostly of watching videos on the Internet. It’s easier for him because reading is quite a challenge. He has dyslexia, which makes reading, school, and even the research he’d love to do in his spare time more stressful. He finds it hard to describe his frustration because he is on the autism spectrum, with delayed speech and language.

“But he does what he can,” says his father, Danilo Gutiérrez, looking at his son with a smile. He constantly encourages his son and advocates for his inclusion in athletics and other school activities.

Adrian Gutierrez-Elbers at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pembroke Pines on Monday, December 6, 2022.

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, you can do it safely here.

A supportive English teacher at school encourages him to talk about movies, a way of telling stories that he can more easily understand. Picture books like the “Captain Underpants” series have been his favorites, but he wishes he could keep advancing his reading level.

“Now that he’s starting high school, it’s critical that he get a good tutoring so he can excel,” says Jeannie DeMarzo, of the Danielle DeMarzo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and activities for children with special needs. The foundation has organized events attended by the Gutiérrez family.

Inspired by the spirit of the family, Jeannie DeMarzo nominated Adrian for the Miami Herald’s Wish Book this holiday season. She said that she admires the dedication that Adrián, his parents and his two brothers have towards advocating for children with special needs.

Danilo Gutiérrez is a baseball coach for children with special needs. Adrian’s mother is a behavior specialist who works with families every day. Adrián participates in activities sponsored by best buddies, like getting the crowd excited and displaying art that was auctioned off at a recent fundraiser.

Adrián Gutiérrez-Elbers with his father, Danilo, at Barnes & Noble of Pembroke Pines, on Monday, December 6, 2022.

Adrián Gutiérrez-Elbers with his father, Danilo, at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Pembroke Pines, Monday, December 6, 2022.

The kind of specialized tutoring that could help Adrian improve his reading comprehension is too expensive for his family’s budget. He stumbles over the difficult words, which makes school frustrating and exhausting. His exertion tires him so much that he sometimes needs to take a nap as soon as he gets home, and sometimes he needs “cool down” periods. Still, he tries.

“Our goal is for him to read fluently, independently and with comprehension, enough for him to understand what he reads,” says his father, who works as a substitute teacher.

The challenges in the classroom do not prevent Adrián from engaging in extracurricular activities that keep him socially active. He volunteers at the Key Club, taps his feet at a Latin dance club, and plays Minecraft at a game club. He recently went on his first date at a Florida Panthers game with a school friend he really likes.

Adrian and his father have a strong bond, often making each other laugh at local jokes and fondly remembering family trips to the beach.

“He’s a wonderful young man,” DeMarzo says. “He is very nice and outgoing.”

He would also like to qualify as a scuba diver with his father, so they can dive together and explore the underwater world. While his father would be a bit anxious before doing it, Adrian is more enthusiastic.

“I’ll try everything I can,” he says.

How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

How to help

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He dreams of being a marine scientist, but needs special tutoring to help him read