I’ve worked with a lot of autistic kids who are really struggling. And that’s hard on their parents too, because they worry about the future. Will their children grow up to be safe, happy, productive?
No one can predict the future, but I always want to look toward the positive side. So many successful adults with Asperger’s or autism tell of difficult childhoods. An example I recently read was in the 5/16/2009 Newsweek article on Ari Ne’eman. Ne’eman is a college student, autistic, and the founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. I think by anyone’s standards he’d be considered quite accomplished. So it was especially interesting to read about his childhood in the article:
Ne'eman battles a strange kind of image problem: his critics accuse him of not really being autistic. His mother, Rina, is particularly sensitive about this. "People who see Ari today have no idea where he's been," she says. As a young child, Ne'eman was verbally precocious but socially challenged. "I didn't understand the people around me, and they didn't understand me," he says. He was bullied and ostracized—back then he didn't look at people; he flapped his hands and paced incessantly (he still does both today); he brought newspapers to elementary school as leisure reading. "I think the word 'freak' may have come up," he says. He was, at one point, segregated from his peers in a special-ed school. That led to struggles with depression and anxiety so severe he would pick at his face until it bled. I asked Ne'eman how he manages all the professional mingling he does today. Small talk makes him uncomfortable, but he's learned to play along. Still, none of it is easy. "You come out of a meeting and you've put on a mask, which involves looking people in the eye, using certain mannerisms, certain phrases," he says. "Even if you learn to do it in a very seamless sort of way, you're still putting on an act. It's a very exhausting act."And Ari Ne’eman is just one example of so many autistic adults who are thriving, both in spite of and because of their autism. So what will happen with your child? You can’t predict, but neither can the specialists.
I do know that all kids do better with good, supportive parenting, adults who stand up and fight for their kids no matter what, and extra help when they’re really struggling, whether socially, academically, or emotionally. And every child deserves to have a parent who’s optimistic about the future.