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In Their Own Words - Never Give Up Hope

This blog post is by a proud mother of a son with Asperger's Syndrome.

This one is different
We have always known Ian was different, from the time we brought him home from the hospital. In the beginning we thought he had a heart problem. He would stop breathing and pass out several times every day. It was terrifying watching my son pass out every time he was uncomfortable (i.e. wet, hungry, tired) After many tests, his doctor said “This is usually a learned behavior, but he’s just holding his breath until he passes out....he’s precociously angry“. (He was 3 weeks old at the time).
As the years passed, we struggled with emotional outbursts, seeing our first psychologist at 3 years old. We spent the next 6 years bouncing around between therapists. He was diagnosed with many disorders: ADHD, OCD, ODD, anxiety, depression, bi-polar.

Finally, a diagnosis!
It wasn’t until Ian’s school finally had a therapist come out to the school, when Ian was 9, so he could be observed in his “natural” environment that we finally got a correct diagnosis. After just 3 hours of observation, I got a call from a very excited AND smart lady saying “I think I know what we’ve got! I’m looking at Asperger’s here!” No one had ever looked at autism before because, “Ian is so smart, and speaks so well.” But finally, we had a diagnosis where all the pieces fit, and one that helped us direct his therapy properly.

The difficult years
The next several years were the most difficult. We spent hours every week with various therapists: behavioral, occupational, sensory integration therapy, various drug regimes, etc. All my son’s teachers and principals had my number on speed dial, and I practically had a chair with my name on it in the school offices. We even had two stays in psychiatric hospitals for violent outbursts. (We discovered later that many of these outbursts were related to his being over medicated.) There was even a time during junior high that we were discussing placing him in a therapeutic school setting, out of state.
Through all of this, we did our best to make sure Ian kept up with his studies. We made sure he was placed in classes where he could be successful, as well as academically challenged. We even had several special teachers that championed Ian’s cause with the school administration. Even taking it upon themselves, to educate his other teachers how to “handle” Ian in the classroom.

Slowly, each year Ian got better. He learned when to take himself out of a situation. He learned that you can’t tell the teachers everything you think about them (even if you are right!). He learned to handle the inevitable bullying that came his way. He learned how to overcome his anxieties related to school. He even learned how to handle hours and hours of homework every night.

Fast forward to this year.....
Several weeks ago, as I was doing my normal household chores when I got an unexpected phone call. It was the high school counselor greeting me. The next words out of her mouth, however, made my heart sing. She had just run the senior class academic rankings to determine valedictorian status. She was shocked and thrilled when she discovered that Ian had indeed claimed the #1 spot. Concord High School 2012 Senior Class Valedictorian: Ian Wahlquist!

After all the tears and struggles, after all the vicious bullying, after everything Ian has won. He won high school. He won one of his biggest battles of his life. Not only has he claimed valedictorian status, he gets to speak at his graduation to our entire community and his fellow students. To top it off he has also qualified for the Arkansas Governor’s Distinguished Scholars Scholarship!

Never give up hope!!!
We hear so often about the struggles our children and families face with autism. Today I want to give you hope. Never stop trying to get a correct diagnosis. Never stop fighting for the services you need to help your children learn and reach their potential. Never let the bullies keep your child down! Someday your child could stand before those very nay-sayers, as their Class Valedictorian looking forward to a bright college career and life!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.