Thursday, May 21, 2009

Autism, Success & Happiness

Last night we had two guest speakers at the autism parent support group that I lead. We were having such a delightful time it was hard to wrap things up and get out of there!

To give you a little background….back in February, I represented our group at a gluten free food fair at a local market. There I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow autism mom (I’ll call her S.) who owns a GFCF hamburger bun bakery. We got to chatting and I learned that her son (whom I’ll call D.), diagnosed with autism at age 9 and now 20 years old, was a freshman at Michigan State University and living independently on campus. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with the parent of a young adult on the spectrum, so I was really fascinated listening to her speak about her son. By the end of the afternoon, she volunteered to come with her son and speak at one of our meetings.

S. shared about her son’s early childhood (very little speech, very withdrawn into his own world) which was starkly contrasted by the handsome and articulate 20 year old young man sitting next to his mom as he lovingly teased her and shared stories of his past.

They spent very little time talking about therapy and treatments – though S. did start D. on the GFCF diet at age 11 and a few supplements (no chelation) and D. continues the GFCF diet still by choice. D. said GFCF has become the norm for him and he doesn’t really miss the “other” stuff. I was a bit surprised that he continues the GFCF lifestyle living independently on a college campus. I would have thought it difficult, but he jokingly assured me that Burger King Whoppers (on one of his Mom’s soon-to-be patented GFCF buns of course) and fries are pretty easy to come by! ;)

On an interesting note, D. commented that he really has no childhood memories up until age 11, when he made a breakthrough and became more engaged and interactive with the family and his surroundings.

S. also made a few points that really resonated long past the end of our meeting.

Happiness means different things to different people. Are we keeping our child’s happiness in mind, or our own? As S. mentioned, it once saddened her to know that her son has only 1 or 2 friends. D. said he’s quite happy with his very small circle of friends and it suits him just fine. He’s happy with the life he has.

Set your child up for success. Don’t set the bar too high or use the same ruler to compare your child to the next. In fact, throw the ruler away! Instead, build your child’s confidence by creating a safe, happy environment for learning and let them savor the victory of success. Often.

Advocate. It's our job to advocate for our children to build that environment for success. Don't stop until you find that environment that best suits your child, because not every teacher, classroom, or campus is a good fit for every student that passes through the door.

And by the way, D. found his perfect fit. He was recently accepted to the MSU Eli Broad College of Business and plans to pursue a career in Marketing. He’s already hard at work helping his mom with the patent process and has secured a national distributor for their GFCF product.

Success and happiness. I think D. has it all. It doesn’t get more inspiring than that.

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