This is a post by Alex Plank, founder of Wrong Planet.
I sat down with Liz Laugeson of UCLA’s PEERS program to talk about how to make friends. Making friends can be hard for individuals with Autism / Asperger’s because we have a hard time figuring out social cues.
A lot of the social skills training I’ve run across focus on concrete skills like introducing yourself. These skills are great in theory but autistics like myself often struggle with figuring out what actually works in practice. The PEERS program, however, seems to be based in real life application of social skills.
I’m sure you’re going to enjoy my interview with Liz!
My son, Christopher Fitzmaurice, was diagnosed in 1988 at UCLA by one of the foremost authorities in the field in autism, Dr. BJ Freeman. We then had two confirming diagnoses. We got Chris all of the services that were provided over the years and on our own, paid for additional speech therapy (five days per week) and much more. As we moved throughout Chris’s life, I always kept in touch with Dr. Freeman and used her as a “resource” at different times so we knew what to do next.
Over the years, a boy who didn’t even speak intelligibly at 11 (he had been kept back twice to be “mainstreamed”) continued to improve at light speed. By the time he was 17, I flew back to California with him to see Dr. Freeman (who was still at UCLA) and she was “amazed” to see how well he was doing. Over the next two years he shocked everyone and they “raised’ him one grade. At 19, he was accepted to UNC Charlotte and graduated in four years with close to a 3.0 GPA in Sports Medicine. He did so well in fact that he was accepted for his Master’s Degree in Sports Medicine at UNC-C, which has amazed everyone who knew him.
At age 24, we just flew out again to see Dr. Freeman and she was absolutely “blown away.” Tears all the way around. The improvement since she saw him at 17 was “ten-fold.” But what she said, I feel, is really important for young parents today whose child was just diagnosed.
“Michael, a ‘number’ of the kids that were diagnosed back in the 80’s with autism are doing very well today. Working, some going to college, some in graduate school like Chris.”
She further said that some kids were so good on the computer, for instance, that companies actually were looking for adults with special skills.
I remember we didn’t have much hope back when Chris was diagnosed in the late 80’s. Yet here’s one of the foremost authorities on the subject of autism who says many years later, that she has “seen with her own eyes” great strides by children with autism.
Young parents need to know this.
This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Michael Fitzmaurice of Charlotte, N.C.
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