Home > In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – Great Strides

In Their Own Words – Great Strides

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.

If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. jenstate
    May 11, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Great story! There is so much help now for children who are diagnosed on the spectrum and with other neuro-behavioral disorders. My daughter has SPD and we have just started traditional OT and Berard AIT – I know a lot of children on the spectrum have sensory issues, so here are some links that have helped us that will hopefully help other parents just beginning this journey:

  2. Nancy Fred
    May 11, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Great story! I too sought for a diagnosis for my daughter – one said autism, but she was ultimately diagnosed with ADHD, altho some of the autism sxs were present.
    The wall of negativity I met was terrible, unthinking comments from people who had no knowledge. Luckily with the help of one great psychologist, a fantastic teacher in the 2nd grade, my daughter ultimately graduated from college and is proficient in several languages. She is also a sensitive and caring individual. So don’t give up hope, things are changing. Seek out supportive people and keep persevering.

  3. karen Denholm
    May 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I live in Duham England and I read your story and found it very inspiring and hopeful. My son Joseph is Autistic and will be 9 in june. We have our challenging moments and when I hear of good stories it gives me hope.I do wish there was more over here to help as there is in america.

  4. robin miller
    May 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Amazing. As we are beginning the college process for our 16 year old son diagnosed with High Functioning Autism / Aspergers, this gives me hope beyond what I could have imagined. Congrats Christopher. You are an inspiration to us all!

  5. May 11, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story. Our son is 9 and mostly non-verbal (he tries to talk, but can’t seem to get the words out). I have never lost hope that someday he will talk and stories like this are so encouraging because they help me to keep on going. Our son, Caleb, is very bright and we just found out in the past few years he had taught himself to read and spell and is pretty much on grade level in those subjects. He has quite a bit of catching up to do in math but we are working hard to get him the help he needs to do well in school. Congratuations Chris on our accomplishments – you and your parents are an inspiration to many other families going through those early years of dealing with the Autism diagnosis.

  6. Amanda
    May 11, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Great job love your story gives me hope for my 2 yr old thanks

  7. suzanne
    May 11, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. It gives me hope that my son who is 12, will have a bright future. He is a whiz on the computer and I have total faith that he will be success in the working field. God Bless!!!

  8. shelby
    May 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Chris is an inspiration! I was lucky enough to meet him last year after hearing him talk at a Walk Now for Autism Speaks kick-off event. He was wonderful to speak with and he really gave me even more hope for our son Ryan. What a great guy and what wonderful parents!

  9. Jennifer
    May 11, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. Our 3 and half year old son was diagnosed with autism at two and half and it is hard to imagine life beyond the here and now and sometimes the here and now looks so dark (good days and bad days as they say) but your story shed light that there is hope and maybe the future won’t be so grim :o)

  10. May 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

    This is a truely wonderful story! I am not the parent to a child wth autism but I am the aunt of sean mckinney who has autism. I thank god for early intervention not so long ago there wasn’t the early help as there is now.a child who couldn’t express his needs started learning sign language ,then more talk,now he’s writing the teachers and aides and all the wonderful people who help our children are angels in disguise

  11. Rekha
    May 11, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Great Story! Keeps my hope alive. Thank you for sharing.

  12. May 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

    This is a truely wonderful story! I am not the parent to a child wth autism but I am the aunt of sean mckinney who has autism. I thank god for early intervention not so long ago there wasn’t the early help as there is now.a child who couldn’t express his needs started learning sign language ,then more talk,now he’s writing the teachers and aides and all the wonderful people who help our children are angels in disguise . You have given us hope beyond hope with your story chris you are indeed a inspiration to all the children younger then you with autism or any other child for that matter my prayers and thought go out to you to keep on inspiring the youth of today.

  13. Kelly Neyra
    May 11, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this story!!!

  14. Nicole
    May 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

    This story lifts me up and fills me with hope for my son. We have had a hard week with therapies. One person says one thing, another say something totally different, all which leave us scared that he won’t be able to accomplish the simplest tasks when he is in preschool this next year.

    I think I am safe in saying that success will happen. In its own time, its own way for my son.

    Thank you for your story!

  15. Amy Zimmerman
    May 11, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Thank you for this posting. I too, have taken my son to several “experts” for diagnosis. No one seems to have a recipe, but my son, who is now 3 1/2, is doing amazingly well. He is in ABA therapy in our home, plus a blended public preschool program. He is making friends and his speech is improving daily. He now uses complete sentences most of the time and can articulate his wants, likes and dislikes, which has “almost” eliminated the tantrums. One of my craziest concerns about my son, Jake, was that he wouldn’t go to college. Fear and worry are not always rational – actually probably seldom rational – so for some reason, upon hearing Jake’s diagnosis – twice – I was plagued by the thought of him not going to college? My best friend tried to bring me back to the now and reality – “How about he learns to speak first and then we can worry about college honey?” “No. I am worried about college right now.” Maybe I need(ed) a goal for Jake? Maybe it was a way of coping. Who knows? Again, not rational or logical.

    As my son has continued to improve, and the more I read about and hear from the “experts,” I have come to the conclusion that no one really knows much of anything when it comes to the potential of a child diagnosed. But, a parent like Michael Fitzmaurice, can and will ensure that his/her child is getting the best possible care. No one knows your child like you do. Listen to that voice. Do not listen to everything the “experts” say. Chart a course for your child and revel in each and every tiny success. Block out the negative – it is harmful and dangerous.

    So for about I year, I kept saying that my son was going to college if I had to sit and take notes for him. I am certain now that not only will this not be necessary, but he would be horrified by the thought…and if you have an Autistic child, you will understand why that too makes me smile.

    Good job Michael and good job Chris (I know how hard you worked to be “mainstreamed” whatever that actually means) and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing a success that parents of young children can read and feel hopeful. Take comfort in the fact that all your years of worry and hard work are now helping others – like me!

  16. Kiley
    May 11, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I’ve got a little guy following in Chris’s footsteps. My little one started making rapid progress at about the age of 5 and also looks to be heading toward sports medicine. He’ll be 9 this month. His first year in school he was in a self contained special ed room and considered profoundly impaired in all areas the school uses. In a new school in Kindergarten he was mainstreamed and got some really good speech therapy. In second grade he was tested for the gifted program and entered it for third grade. He likes studying college level human anatomy books for fun. Bones are his favorite.

  17. Jennifer
    May 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Thank you Thank you so much for sharing your story. As I sit and watch my 4 year old navigate the computer like a pro, I am filled with hope and joy. We know he has been making huge strides but we still wonder from time to time what his future will be like. Reading your story puts me a little more at ease. Thanks again

  18. Jacolyn Dean
    May 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Thank you for sharing your story! I don’t have a child with autism but my best friend has two and my cousin has a son with down syndrome and autism. Stories like your are inspiring to everyone!

  19. May 11, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Thank you! That should give all parents hope : )

  20. Miranda
    May 11, 2010 at 11:37 am

    My son was just taken to a Neuroligist for Migraines and we came back with he has slight signs of Autim. I always thought it was ADD or ADHD at which when he was in age 3 preschool the state comes and evalutes every child and they said he would grow out of his behaveral problems and arm and hand flapping. He is now 4 and I kept him home out of preschool this year for that reason. If only I has known. These story’s give me hope, hope that my son will make it!! I have alot fear, and anxiety, he still has to be evaluted soon for his autism but now because of your storys…i am calm and feel better. I truely Thank You and everyone of your story’s in an insperation to us.

  21. Susan
    May 11, 2010 at 11:37 am

    This just made my whole morning!

    My 5 1/2 yr old son has been quickly improving for the past 2 years. His first year and a half was a very slow go and the doctors and therapists told me he may never be near ‘normal’ because he was so low functioning.

    He is now speaking – although not clearly, he has oral muscle weakness.
    He has overcome some of his sensory issues.
    He can ride a bike and run (although, he does still fall a lot).
    He can stand on one foot for 5 seconds and catch a large ball (still working on medium and small).
    He no longer needs behavior therapy, he has learned to manage his aggression fairly well for a 5 year old. Most of his outbursts are typical 5 year old outbursts.

    These were all major milestones he has accomplished within the past 2 years. His doctors, teachers and therapists are amazed and upped his mainstream time line from 8th grade to a possible 4th or 5th grade.

    Reading this story gives me so much hope. I often wonder if he’ll be able to mainstream. Will he be able to go to college? Will he get a good job? Can he live on his own? etc…etc…etc.

    Thank you Mr. Fitzmaurice for sharing the story of your son Chris. Definitely and inspiration!

  22. May 11, 2010 at 11:45 am

    You bring me HOPE!! thank you!!

  23. Cheryl
    May 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Christopher your amazing. May God continue to bless you in everything that you do.

  24. rhoel natividad
    May 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    That is great….it’s give me so much hope in your story,,my son who was diagnosed when he was 2yrs old since then he was undergone OT & ST and now he’s 6yrs old in 4 years process he have a big development…in fact he is now studying in a normal school but he still continuing OT & ST…hopefully in due time he will become normal as CRIS did…

  25. May 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. My son wasn’t diagnosed until he was 6 and prior to that everyone kept medicating him for ADHD/Bi-Polar disorder and just 5 min in the Neurologist’s office and it was diagnosed correctly due to him walking on his toes and not making eye contact. He’s super intelligent, from day 1 and he was always verbal, but spoke his own language at first. Now, he’s 11 going on 12 and you wouldn’t know he was autistic unless I told you. It’s good to know that he will probably be successful in his adult life. Thanks again and if anyone wants to talk or needs to just vent, email me, ca2az4dad@yahoo.com

    Take care and God Bless.

  26. stacy carter
    May 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    thank u this gives hope for parents of childern with autism

  27. Melanie
    May 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Tears all around here too! Thanks for sharing your story with the younger generation. We have all expectations that our son will be just as successful, but reading your story just makes it real. Thank you so much!

  28. Jen
    May 11, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story. My son will be three-years-old in August and was diagnosed at 22-months. My family and I have dropped everything and made him our priority. Since his diagnosis, he has improved far more than ever expected. He is now doing things children his age can’t do: he knows his numbers 1-9, his alphabet, and is reading! His verbalization and social skills are still emerging, but I know that one day, I will be sharing his success story, just as you have about your son. Please, give your son my best regards and tell him that there is nothing that he can’t achieve. I’m sure that he will be an outstanding asset in his chosen field of sports medicine.

    • Amy Zimmerman
      May 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      @Jen: My son will be 4 in Spetember. He sounds almost exactly like your son. Jake is sight reading about 150 words. He loves trains and lights – stoplights, traffic lights, ligh poles – any lights are cool. A train with lights is a double-whammy! We have been doing ABA therapy in our home for him. It’s about a million dollars – bye-bye to my fancy gym membership, bye-bye to my fancy car, vacations, clothes – Target has cute stuff this summer! Hello $2500 a month that my insurance won’t pay for. C’est la vie. As you know, the only thing that matters is your son. I went from selfish to selfless in about 2 hours after the diagnosis. But, the reason for my ranting is to tell you HE WILL BE FINE!!

      No one ever said that to me and if they did I would have kissed them. You are doing all the right things. One more thing to try is a play group with one other cormally developing child. We have been doing this with a therapist for about 2 months. I think this has had the biggest impact on him of all. His little friend comes over and the therapist creates appropriate play cues and interactions and tecches taking tursn (I STILL HAVE A HARD TIME WITH THAT ONE MYSELF). But the change has been amazing. Jake will walk up to kids he doesn;t know and say, “hey, want to play hide and seek?” Is it a little scripted? Sure. Does he know what he’s saying? Yes. Once it works, he realizes how to get attention from his peers in a way that is positive and gets reinforcement. So I highly recommend this. I just want to tell everyone I can, especially with hightly functioning children like yours. STOP worrying. It is liberating. He will be fine. You watch. You can email me in 10 years when he has friends or A friend. Take care. And stop saying better than expected – they don’t know anything…he will continue to make giant leaps. Spread the word. There are so many of us out there that need it :) Much love to you and your son.

  29. Amy Zimmerman
    May 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Hope is what keeps us all going. Thanks for a great shot in the arm of it today. I read each person’s comments and the word “hope” appeared in about 95%!

  30. Erin Lopes
    May 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Um – this post was exactly what I needed to read after a rough three weeks of trying to force the mainstream model to work for my son. Micheal, you and Christopher are a wonderful inspiration for myself and for my son, who also read this and said, “Wow.” Best wishes to both of you and thank you for sharing your story!

  31. Miranda
    May 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    My son is 4 and we made a trip to the Neuroligist for his Migraine’s and came back home with he slight signs of Autim. He does talk well and is very interactive. So that gives me some hope..well, alot of hope. But even at his 3 preschool evaluation “at which I put I feared he has ADD or ADHD and was worried about his hand and arm flapping” they said he would grow out it, and it was nothing. The teacher put him in corner in “timeout” two times in two in half hours because of his outbreaks. So this year I couldn’t bare to put him in school. He is stil to be evaluated and have alot hope, you inspire us and Thank You for all the Hope.

  32. Susan Laverty
    May 11, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Congratulations Christopher!! You must have worked so hard over the years and you should be so proud of your accomplishments. It sounds like you’ve had wonderful support and encouragement from your Dad. I have son who is 16 and will be a Jr. in High School next year, he is mainstreamed and is a very good student. He does not want to go to college because he wants to be in the U.S. Coast Guard like his Father who served for 27 years. Unfortunately, because of his Autism diagnosis he will never be allowed to serve in any branch of the military. I can’t even begin to bring myself to tell him this, I do not want to hurt him and I can’t bear to think of his disappointment. We still have two years to go and with lots of hope and prayers, I hope he finds something else that he can feel good about and able to achieve. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. Best to you.

  33. Kate Gypson, OTR/L
    May 11, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    This is an EXCEPTIONAL life story to hear and one that also exemplifies the belief of a family in their son and also his abilities!!!! Keep going Christopher….show us, teach us! Learning is a life-long skill and it does not stop at a certain point. Your story is one that needs to be heard for all those other children and families out there.

  34. Mark Pletcher
    May 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Wow comes to mind first and last. Thank you for sharing my fellow Carolinian. My son is thirteen now and could play drums 24/7 if we would let him. I’m not really sure if it is a form of anger management or if he really has that much rhythm in him. He received a piano scholarship in second grade but it was not to his liking. The trick is to find what moves these kids and use it to our and their advantage.

  35. HGatt
    May 11, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    John Gatterdam would be extremely proud of you and Christopher..!
    Congratulations to both of you!! ; )

  36. May 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Dear Michael,
    Your story about your son’s progress is very inspiring! I am the parent of a ten year old son with autism and I am also a parent consultant and trainer for parents of kids on the spectrum. I am also involved in research to help determine what type of involvement by parents influences child outcome. I wonder if you could share with us any specifics about what you did to help your son over the years and what strategies/interventions you believe contributed most to his success. Also, what areas, if any, are you and he continuing to work on at this point – for example, independent living skills, flexibility, executive functioning, social skills, etc?

  37. Jeannie Chukoskie
    May 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    What a wonderful story! My son is 6 yrs. old and on the milder end of the autistic spectrum and I love to read stories of triumph! Congratulations to Christopher and your entire family!
    Jeannie Chukoskie
    (UNCC graduate 1992)

  38. Jessica
    May 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    I am cheered by your article. My daughter Hayley is 17 and has moderate Asberger’s Syndrome with OCD. She is very smart but I am so worried for her to drive, go to college, or even take the SAT’s. I worry that during these activities I wont be there to help her if she gets overwhelmed. As a mom who has worked daily with her to live a “normal” life it is so hard to let go. Thank you for showing me it is possible!

  39. Priya
    May 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    My son is 5 year old.he has PDD-NOS with ADHD.His speech improving.Still needs to be worked on Sensory.We are Behavior Therpay,he is doing good there.Want ask all of he his Gross Motor Skill ase good,excecpt attention issue he doing great,so which class should he go for Kindergarten? His Dr says his skills are good ,but we are not sure to try inlclsion class !!

  40. shannon
    May 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I truly loved your story and it gives me sooo much hope and strength to work even harder than i am with my 3.5 year old, my son is my inspiration and he surprises me everyday! thank you so much for sharing your story again:)

  41. Myra Anderson
    August 9, 2011 at 6:11 pm


    Yes, thats great,! We were with UCLA in 84 when my son was diagnosed also by BJ! My son is now 31 and he has been back to see J as well. He does very well , is verbal, can talk and is very high functioning – but he still has issues and still is very sensitive to things around him, but has learned to deal and cope very well.
    He has grown up to be one of the nicest, sweetest peoplel I know, and Im not just saying that cause Im his mom.
    Alot of the movements and stims he had when he was younger have either been outgrown ,
    or he has learned to keep under control. Mainly I think it is because of the advice we were given then from BJ, to keep him around regular people, students, as much as possible.
    and not treat him as someone with autism – and expect hiim to do well and keep him in as much regular ed as much as possible , for sure socailly. He was very astute in observing others behaviors, so being around others with worse behaviors orstems was not for him.
    We found schools in TX that allowed him more interaction with others that worked out well.
    We also found a team sports program just for disabled – and he really did well with it – and may have helped pave the way for a huge improvement in many skills and ability to be around others.
    Today, we can barely tell he is any different than others, He does have limited vocabulary, and even after alll the speech we had, it is difficult for him to be understood, but over all hes much better than when he was a child, no tanrtrums, very calm and able to be around others even in crowds.
    And when you think he isnt understanding, you can see the wheels turning !
    He may act child like in some things, but in others and things he says, he seems very wise beyond his years.
    But BJ was great and so was UCLA, we are thankful we were able to be a part of their research programs when we lived in CAL.
    The future will be bright – for those of you just now getting a diagnosis – stay focused on all the therapys offered. Alot of the things they do when they are kids, they will outgrow.

  1. May 11, 2010 at 8:17 pm
  2. May 11, 2010 at 11:08 pm

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