In my last post about this year, I bragged a bit about my youngest starting his first job. I’m overjoyed to see him take this step into the workforce, more so than even my other children when they started working. Let me tell you why.
Damien is high functioning autistic. So, you see, him getting a job is a HUGE achievement for him. He’s 17 and, only in the last few years, has really started coming out of his shell. He is a great student with a 3.0 GPA and a bit OCD with his room and other tasks. He finally spent the night at a friend’s just two years ago. It’s been a long, hard road but I’m immensely proud of him!
Damien was 3 when I was approached by a friend about him possibly being on the spectrum. He would play around other kids, but not with them. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t make eye contact. He showed affection to select people, which they kept saying was different than others on the spectrum. He had meltdowns when he couldn’t get his words out or make us understand what he wanted. He banged his head against the walls or floor with no regard to the fact that he was hurting himself.
I did a ton of research, filled out questionnaires, talked with his pediatrician and, finally, got a full evaluation at the University of Iowa Center for Disabilities and Development. They diagnosed him with Autism level 1, specific learning disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. He started speech and occupational therapy at age 3 ½. By the time he started 1st grade, he had reached 80% on their charts and was dismissed from therapies.
Then, it was up to me to get him where he needed to be, to help him succeed in life. He already had a 504 Plan, but that wasn’t enough because it didn’t guarantee him the accommodations he truly needed. So, as a proactive mother, I pushed for an IEP. Finally, in 4th grade, they granted my request (with the help of the education board and his doctors requests). We’ve gotten very lucky to have some awesome teachers along the way, who have helped him develop into the outstanding young man he’s become.
Fast forward to this year. He’s a junior in high school, with a 3.0 GPA, mainstreamed with only a support ‘study hall’ with his special education teacher. He’s made friends with whom he hangs out, plays video games and does ‘guy’ stuff. And he now has a job. He still needs a little help here and there understanding some things and with his reading/writing, but he’s going to do just fine in life.
Periodically, I’ll talk about Autism and have items in my shops in support of our members of society who are autistic. My son is living proof that you should never judge a book by it’s cover. He is different, not less. As his parent, I never did and never will give up!