The Crucial Element of Parental Support: John Paul’s Story
Growing up with autism is challenging. And as somebody who has Asperger’s syndrome, I know this all too well.
Raised in a middle-class family in one of the nicest counties in the Atlanta area, everything was fairly typical for me in my day-to-day life as a child. My father is a pilot for UPS, and my mother is a retired flight attendant for American Airlines. I had a lot of friends, and I got along well with most of my peers in my earlier years.
My parent’s experience during this time was mixed. One thing they noticed early on was my intellect. I tended to be quite knowledgeable about certain things, particularly animal life. I had a vast cranial database about a wide-ranging variety of animals including snakes, sharks, and dinosaurs.
Not only did my family notice this but the people around us began to notice as well. I remember when my father would take me to the barbershop and how I would geek out about science. A lot of people in the shop were impressed by my expansive vocabulary, and they’d jokingly tell me to stop using such big words that people at a barbershop couldn’t possibly understand.
Signs and Awareness
My parents received word over the years from daycare owners and teachers that I always seemed to favor being alone. I usually played by myself at daycare during my toddler years and as I grew older, I never really cared to work in groups and preferred to get things done on my own. I also liked to keep a bouncy ball on me, and I would bounce it around while in deep thought.
These were all signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, but my parents had never really heard of it. Around 6th-grade stuttering became an issue, and one of my teachers noticed the other signs and suggested that my parents have me evaluated. Finally, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 11.
When I got into middle school, I began to struggle socially. I was only comfortable around specific people, and some of those who I previously called my friends were now antagonistic toward me. One example that I remember quite clearly is being coldly dismissed whenever I tried simply striking up a conversation.
I also remember trying to sit at the back of the bus and hearing the disapproving yells and curses of the other children telling me that weird kids sit at the front. Not helping matters was my tendency to be very serious about almost everything, which turned off some of my peers who were rather humorous. While this time in my life was turbulent, I did manage to get through it thanks to the unwavering support of my parents.
Accepting My Diagnosis and Parental Support
My parents initially struggled to deal with my social issues at school (pre-diagnosis). When my mother first told me about my diagnosis, I remember being quite angry and for a short time I even rejected the idea and denied that I had Asperger’s. Over time, I grew to accept being Aspergian.
During my adolescent years, my mother helped me succeed by having me attend classes to educate me about autism and help me understand my previous struggles with neurotypicals.
I regularly met with counselors to assist me in improving my social skills and my speech, and eventually overcame the stuttering. My mother would also give me tips as I grew older. She taught me to be aware of and how to interpret the tone of voice and body language. This ended up being very helpful by the time I entered high school. I ended up making a lot more friends than I ever did in middle school.
My father taught me how to identify when a person is being serious or humorous, which really helped me to stop taking everything literally. Thanks to him, I ended up developing a rather dry sense of humor of my own. My father also encouraged me during my adolescent years by showing me some notable celebrities that were diagnosed with Asperger’s such as Dan Aykroyd or Satoshi Tajiri (the creator of Pokemon). Information like that inspired me and boosted my confidence.
These people likely had the same struggles I had. I realized that if they could go on to find great amounts of success, then there’s no reason I couldn’t pull off the same feats.
The two of them also noticed that my gift for writing stories was beginning to develop at this time. Their encouragement for me to develop my skills was the most amazing expression of support and had a huge impact. I began to develop so many ideas for stories as my teenage years continued and they really ended up being beneficial for the writing classes I took in college.
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As I blossomed into adulthood and started college, I got a chance to reflect on how far I’d come from the adolescent that had a challenging social life in the middle school years. Throughout my college years, I had a nice circle of friends that shared a lot of the same interests as me and even went on a couple of dates. I started driving to different cities and states on my own and actually ended up joining a fraternity. In addition to this, I met a few people in college who also had Asperger’s Syndrome; one of whom remains one of my closest friends. It goes to show how valuable parental support and IEP’s can be to students, helping them reach for the top and deal with unique circumstances.
Message to Parents
Now as an adult, I am proud of who I am, and I am even more proud to be Aspergian. Of course, I have my parents to thank for their amazing steadfast support throughout my life. I share with hopes of reaching and encouraging parents who may be struggling or discouraged about the chances of their child’s chances of success in adulthood. And parents who are unsure if their efforts are impactful.
Your patience, support, and understanding are of vital importance. Instill the belief in your children that you will love and support them through every step of this incredible journey, help them power through any obstacle along the way, and help them build and maintain a strong mind and spirit to match.
This article was featured in Issue 90 – Practical Ways to Build Skills for a Lifetime