Disabled no more. That was the recurring stanza of the poem my son, Glen, authored and then read aloud during his graduation ceremony from the Governor’s School for the Arts creative writing program.
It certainly seems true. The poised young man who is active in theater and on the dean’s list as a college sophomore isn’t the same kid who hid under his desk or melted down in the school cafeteria during his elementary school years.
Glen has Asperger syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed while in kindergarten, the first child in his small school system to be identified with it.
At the time I remember thinking about his future and wondering if independent living was possible. During his early life, if Glen was comfortable in one restaurant, taking him to another was cause for a total meltdown. Wearing a different color, different shoes or eating different foods had the potential for disaster. Eye contact, personal space, handwriting, even going to school seemed monumental.
Some 15 years later, I see him going to college independently and living far away on his own. He has friends and is involved in clubs and activities. He manages his own life. I see graduation, marriage and a career in his future, and grandchildren in mine.
Together, we have tackled autism, and he is disabled no more. Here are some things we learned along the way:
- A disabled child is a child and needs boundaries. Don’t be afraid to set them and give consequences for actions.
- Getting a diagnosis is hard but worth it. It can be a long process, but proper diagnosis means proper treatment. I worked with a pediatrician who was skilled in the diagnosis of special needs.
- Don’t worry about labels. Worry about the child.
- It’s OK to grieve. Dreams die hard after all. But move on and make new dreams.
- Use the tools available to you. Occupational therapy and physical therapy strengthened muscles and helped with spatial and texture issues. Speech therapy helped with eye contact and the proper way to hold a conversation. A counselor guided us through the middle school years. A social club for teens with autism gave him a place where he wasn’t teased and he could be himself.
- You are your child’s best advocate. Don’t give up on what you know is important for your child. If you aren’t receiving the right services or your child’s school placement isn’t the best, say so.
The most important thing my family learned: Don’t give up hope. Your child has amazing potential. Once you begin removing barriers, miracles happen.
For more information about autism and Asperger syndrome, call (502) 629-6000