As a mentor for teens with autism and their families, I am struck with the level of trust, humility and indomitable spirit that I see in these families weekly on their paths to rising above others limitations of them.
I would like to share one story with you from one of my clients and his mom's perspective:
Mom's Story: I knew my son had a brilliance inside of him that was just waiting to come out ... if we could just get past this "autism thing". At 3 ½ years of age, Stephen was working with a speech pathologist to work on his receptive language skills. There was a set of blocks and a Winnie the Pooh figurine sitting side-by-side on the table.
Pathologist: "OK Stephen, I want you to put the blocks in front of Winnie the Pooh."
Stephen turned Winnie a quarter turn, so that Winnie was no longer facing forward, but rather facing the blocks. From the sideways angle, the blocks were now in front of Winnie the Pooh on the table.
Stephen: I was seven years old when I got the diagnosis for autism and ADHD. At first I felt very angry at the person who made this diagnosis, because I thought they were saying something was wrong with me. We eventually learned to deal with the fact that I had autism, and that I did have some problems.
The situation was looking very grim. That same year in late second grade, we used some ADHD medication to try to have me pay attention in class. The medication worked as intended, and I was able to pay attention to class, but the side effects were painful to my quality of life.
Mom: Some teachers "got" Stephen and some didn't. The ones who "got" him had their hearts stolen by a little guy who filled their hearts with joy. We are truly grateful for the way that they connected with Stephen.
Stephen: The medication made it so that I would no longer feel hungry at the normal times when I should have a meal, and I began to get skinnier and skinnier until my ribs would show entirely, and I felt a significant lack of energy. Eventually the ADHD medication was dropped in favour of supplements as an alternative as I moved into the fourth grade. My body slowly but surely returned to its normal shape, and I was able to pay attention in class because of the supplements, which had a similar effect (such as the fish oil).
With all of these supplements, my academic level went up at almost at a superhuman rate. I was then able to move schools gradually until I got to where I am now.
Mom: A diagnosis is truly a double-edged sword. I tried, in the first few years to keep it a secret. But what I have learned is: don't share this burden alone. Give others a chance to step up and help you lighten the load. Some won't step up ... they just don't get it. But you would be amazed at how others do ... including children.
Stephen: I am in a fairly mainstream school now. Most qualities of life that you would expect from perhaps an above average life have been fulfilled. I now have unlocked a higher piece of myself allowing me to write these articles that I share with others such as you.
Ken: Although I hadn't known it at the time, a standard test that Stephen would give potential mentor/therapists for kids with autism was to talk about his complete feeling of betrayal by grownups and how they manipulated a basketball game with his fellow Asperger students vs. the local highest winning basketball team to let his team win.
Previous Mentors had told him to "get over it" whereas my response was "hey, let's write an article about your feelings, shape them into a learning moment and see if HuffPo would publish it! They did ☺. This was a defining moment in Stephen believing his voice could and should be heard. Click here for that HuffPo blog.
Stephen: The struggle with autism has been quite the battle. Many tears were shed, many issues were fought, many goals were achieved, many hearts opened, many friends made and many lives changed.
Mom: I felt that it was always important to share how much he had grown with Stephen ... especially on days when things weren't going so well or when he was down on himself.
Here are some things that I would like to tell parents of children on the spectrum:
Try to not be totally devastated by the diagnosis. They are still the same lovable, adorable child that you had before and you can have the same dreams for them.
Don't ever let other people put limits or ceilings on what your child can do. Trust your gut. Trust that inner brilliance that you see and work like hell to find people to help you pull it out. You can teach your child to behave in a neurotypical way.
Embrace your child's differences and let yourself dream of the way that he or she might change the world.
Ken: Who better to share their thoughts then people who are living it? I leave the last words of wisdom to my awesome client Stephen:
Stephen: So what is the moral of the story? I am talking to kids like me who have been given a diagnosis of autism: I guess you could say that where you are now is not necessarily where you will always be. I personally believe that nobody is only destined to one path.
I believe that the force of will is what determines success or failure, not fate, destiny or diagnosis. I believe that most people on the autistic scale can reach the level that I have and perhaps even greater. They just need the right parenting, the right mentors, the right people in their lives and most importantly... persistence.
For more information about becoming a life coach for teens with autism, click here
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This is Aiden. He loves dinosaurs, Skylanders, "The Polar Express," Halloween and playing outside. He is an awesome big brother to his little sister, Emily. He is caring, imaginative and just a little mischievous! This is Aiden. This is autism.
James love Transformers, Iron Man, dinosaurs, SpongeBob and building things. He loves to draw and invent new things and making videos with his sister Melissa. He also loves spending time with his other sister Ellie and playing with our dogs Sammi and Mia. He's full of love, laughter and is the first one to offer you a hug when he knows you are sad. He is awesome!
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debeecole:This is Micah. He loves books, playing tag, exploring, and The Angry Birds. He has a laugh that is contagious & an Amazing imagination. He is one of the faces of Autism.
Melissa Morgenlander:My son Quentin can hack an ipad app to get to his favorite youtube videos. He loves cuddling in bed, hugging his friends and teachers, and spinning around with his twin sister. He is almost 6 years old, and he has PDD-NOS. This is what autism looks like.
Steph Steinmetz:This is DJ. He is an 8 year old bundle of energy. He loves video games, computers and his brother and sister. He is one of the sweetest, funniest kids ever. DJ enriches the lives of everyone he meets. This is autism.
Suzanne Romero:This is my son who also happens to be autistic. He started school when he was a beautiful wide eyed, non verbal two and a half year old. Now he's a beautiful young man. Wednesday May 15th he graduated from high school. It was a long hard road for both of us, but I would do it all over again. It isn't over. Now a new wonderful chapter begins.
Follow Ken Rabow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Mentor4YouthMPW