This was originally published in the Autism File magazine, July 2010
It is a lot easier said than done when I say I graduated from high school. It took some real hard work, a lot of patience, a great team of people, and a great amount of determination from my part to show the world what I am capable of accomplishing. And this is only the beginning.
My success is due to the many years of learning and trying to understand what the world is made of. Gradually over the years I learned to make sense of all things around me. Now, I want to help others. This is the story of my success.
My mom saved me from a life of despair. Her attitude is the key to my success. She made me feel like I could be a success no matter my challenges. Grateful believer of hard work, my mom did not wait for services or just think others could teach me better. Mom tried many things but not one treatment or therapy alone is the reason for my success, but rather the combination of many.
Basically, if it was not for my nice mom and great teachers, my life would not be worth living. They believed in me and that has made the biggest impact – more than the type of teaching methods used. My education has been varied between home schooling, classrooms for the severely handicapped, and general education classes. My mom took me out of classrooms when there was neglect or abuse.
I was not able to move very much when I was a baby. The reality is that I was stuck in my body. Mom got me a great physical therapist and made me nicely practice all the time how to standup, sit down and move around.
It was hard to use any of my senses, but the hardest part was and still is to use them at the same time. It is hard to see something and try to listen at the same time. It really required a lot of effort to figure out strategies to deal with this challenge. For example, holding a book and flipping through the pages makes it easier to focus instead of looking at where the noise is coming from.
Little by little my nice mom gave me the tools to recognize that everything had meaning. Mom read to me often and made me understand the connection between words and images and sound. My favorite part of the day was when mom would take my great books and read to me.
I remember that my mom gave me some blue tinted glasses that helped. I used to be unable to focus on letters, but my mom made some transparent letters that I used to have to slide over a hard copy of the same letter. Before that I could not see the whole letter, only the little dots that made up the print of the letter. I had auditory integration therapy to help me learn how to listen. It helped me to hear and process what I was hearing.
Once when I was little and not able to move by myself, my mom tried to help me by moving my arms to request items I wanted, for example, to reach for juice or milk. Then, she helped me learn to point to yes and no. It was like giving me the help I needed for initiating movement. Then she taught me how to spell. One day I surprised my family by spelling the word “fireplace” when they where looking for the house keys. I had taken the keys and thrown them into the fireplace, but no one had seen me do that. The best real triumph of my life is when my mom greatly understood that I was capable of learning. That moment was when I didn’t try to get just my needs met, but I told her where the keys where.
Nice mom frankly did not stop trying to find techniques. The best mom did was try Applied Behavior Analysis and in this way she reached me. At first it was hard, then it got easier and frankly boring.
Later, it was RPM that really opened up a world of possibilities for me. Rapid Prompting Method is a way to teach academics that leads to communication through typing. My mom frankly did not try to treat me differently than she would have if I had been neurotypical, but she talked to me as if I understood everything. From pointing to pictures, later to yes and no questions, progressing to pointing to letters, I learned to type, and became free. Now I believe I can do anything.
Because I know that it can happen to others, I need to write about terrible things that happened to me. For example, my mom nicely tried to find a good camp for me but I can tell that just because a place is supposedly well-organized and staffed, does not mean your child is safe. Kindly, I believe that most teachers and aides mean well, but I have also been in situations at schools where I have been neglected, emotionally abused, or accidently hurt by untrained staff.
When I attended Torrey Pines High School, I was placed in the Severely Handicapped Special Education classroom. This is where I met my favorite teacher, Mr. Alan Gustafson, who after some time with me was convinced I was “in there somewhere” as he told me. He was determined to find a way for me to communicate with him, and he eventually did after learning how I used RPM to learn at home with my mom.
My next step came when I told my mom I was ready to challenge myself and take mainstream classes. This was hard because I had to do homework with my aides using only one finger to type which can take a long time. The Litewriter came around the same time and it was cool because I kind of had a voice with it and could talk to my classmates and my teachers.
Therapies played a big role throughout high school too. Occupational Therapy, Vision Therapy, Neuromusic Therapy and even Speech Therapy with Dr. Palmer helped me better many aspects of my life in order to do better in school. Like learning to self-regulate helped me stay in class longer, even though I would still need breaks sometimes.
My nice mom fearlessly gave the impression that I could very much be anything I chose. My dreams are to become a writer and speaker. My need to earn money is really a motivation. I want to tell people about autism as well.
The important things to my success as a young adult is I learned to understand my need for breaks and accommodations and how to ask for them. Speaking up for myself was hard to learn but is necessary for survival as an adult. Also learning to control my body and moments of overwhelm is difficult and I work on that a lot. Nicely I get mad at my mom sometimes because she makes me follow through with what I tell her I want to do. But basically, that is how I have learned to be more in control of my life and how I have realized that I have to work hard to make my dreams come true.