In 2011, my middle son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was just as the DSM-V was eliminating “Asperger’s Syndrome”. He was 9 at the time and struggling socially. Just getting through a single day at school was a challenge. He didn’t have any friends and teachers were unable to reach him. However, he was gifted in Language Arts and surpassed his peers. I made the difficult decision to home-school him while we learned to navigate the new waters that we were in.
Those days were some of the most painful, as a parent. Meltdowns were sometimes hourly. Nothing seemed to calm or soothe him. His education suffered and I was genuinely concerned for his future. His grades were straight “F’s”. We were able to meet with a therapist, Kasi, who would help to dramatically change our lives for the better. Initial appointments were quiet as they worked to build a trust and bond. As the communication strengthened, he started to feel understood. The more that he felt understood, the more he started to connect social dots. Meltdowns were coming less and less. Confidence started to flow. He was able to return to regular school within a matter of a year. His amazing therapist gave him the tools that he needed to self-advocate.
Here we are 6 years later and he is a shadow of his former self. Meltdowns have been completely eradicated. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time he even came close. The work he did with Kasi paid off. Her gentle guidance helped him re-discover his voice. Today, he is on the honor roll, accepted into advanced classes for high school next year, discharged from his therapies, in some after school social clubs, working as a teacher’s aide, and thriving in ways that we didn’t think were possible. We didn’t try to shelter him from his fears, we just showed him how to overcome them. In turn, he didn’t just defeat the odds, he has shattered them and left them in his dust.
I wish that I could take some credit for that but I’m grateful that I can’t. He worked hard for where he is. He fought for all of his accomplishments. He struggled and learned from those struggles. We cannot always overcome every obstacle but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. He did not let anything define him – he defined himself. He didn’t know where all of his hard work would get him until he did it. He just knew that giving up was not an option.
*Nicole Mann is an Administrative Assistant at Agape for Youth, Inc.