This guest post is by Renee Skudra, a mother of a son on the autism spectrum who attends the University of California, Berkeley.
My son was diagnosed at approximately age ten with Asperger's by a female neurologist at Children's Hospital, Oakland who told me the best thing to probably do would be "to institutionalize Nils." She said "you're still young enough to have another child." I am seldom at a loss for words but was absolutely speechless, not the least for her inhumanity but also for her overriding insensitivity and lack of concern for the plight of my young son.
After the diagnosis came extensive occupational and physical therapy for years, as well as some short-term speech therapy (in his public school). Round after round of IEPS. Whenever I felt like I could not carry on, I had only to look at my son and see the amazing character he had, his unimpeachable honesty and integrity, his concern for others (perhaps somewhat atypical for Aspies) and his ever-present intellectual brilliance. Whenever I lost hope, I pulled myself back and thought: imagine how HE feels, the challenges he has to surmount. There was bullying in the public school, teachers who had no idea what being a child on the autism spectrum meant, insensitive commentaries by other parents. Parents would come up to me and say, "You're son is an honor's student at UC Berkeley, straight A's there? But aren't people with Asperger's retarded?" I heard all of this often and from people who were often highly educated.
There were people who helped (and many who did not) but it was my son's OWN efforts that finally carried the day. The 4.0 at U.C. Berkeley was achieved by him and him alone.
Faith in his abilities and in his character is what has ultimately helped me to continue on. He has matured into a well-rounded person with many abilities and talents. He is very active in community theatre in Berkeley and has been cast in several productions. He plays classical piano, sings (beautifully), draws (beautifully) and has many friends, both atypical neurologically and neuro-typicals. He exemplifies the maxim, "Fall down 7 times, get up 8". He looks at any crises that arise as opportunities and challenges. His spirit is overwhelmingly positive. He has courage. He has dignity.
Despite my education and a professional degree, he has been my greatest teacher. One must persevere and NOT let others define your child or self-limit that child. Had I allowed that neurologist to do that for my son, he would have been essentially dying in an institution.
Today he is on Dean's List with a double major at the University of California, Berkeley, the #1 public university in the world. He is on four scholarships, a member of Phi Alpha Theta (honor society), a member of the Drama Club and a member of the theatre community in Berkeley. Go Nils!