Submitted by Kelly Fleming (mother), with permission to share from Ben.
Ben is 17 years old and just wrapped up his sophomore year of high school. He began his school career in a small, self-contained Pre-K class of students with mixed abilities. He frequently spoke in scripts and had many repetitive behaviors. He had sensory processing problems commonly seen in autistic children. Switching to different clothing between seasons was a struggle and resulted in tears and meltdowns. He began speech therapy when he was around 2 years old, continuing throughout elementary. For much of his elementary years, he received speech and occupational therapy both privately and in the school settings. We have always felt this was critical for his school success. This interview is just a snapshot of how he is doing today.
Mom: Do you remember when you were first identified as having autistic traits? Or, do you ever remember a time when you weren’t identified as being autistic?
Ben: No, it’s just always been with me. It’s always been who I am.
Mom: Are you glad we always talked about it?
Ben: Yes. I’m glad I’ve always known.
Mom: What’s something I do right in respect to parenting you?
Ben: It’s hard to put into words.
Mom: I try to under-react to things you say, so you’ll always know it’s safe to tell me anything.
Ben: Yes! That! You let me talk and say things.
Mom: I try to follow your lead.
Ben: You do that. That’s good. Yeah, parents should follow their kids’ leads.
Mom: Do you think I should push you more in areas or on certain things? Like food, for example?
Ben: Maybe, maybe a little.
Mom: What about traveling? Do you think I should push you to travel more?
Ben: Umm, no. Not that.
Mom: Is there something you wish I wouldn’t do?
Ben: I don’t like it when you guilt-trip me. I also don’t like it when you worry about what I wear, or when you try to make my clothes “match”.
Mom: What do you like about public schools? Anything?
Ben: Well, I like the social aspect. And that’s just a happy accident on the schools’ part. They’d rather us just focus on learning instead of socializing.
Mom: How can a high school support autistic students?
Ben: They could have a room or space dedicated to recovering from meltdowns, instead of having to go to a counselor’s office, or a teacher’s room. They could actually train teachers on how to teach and support students on the spectrum, and make sure teachers actually know which of their students are autistic.
Mom: Some people think autistic traits could have been an evolutionary advantage. There are even some people who say “autism is my superpower”. How do you feel about that?
Ben: It’s extremely ignorant of how evolution works. Anyone who says that autism is a superpower doesn’t even have the slightest grasp of autism.
It’s dismissive of the actual struggles autistic people have to deal with on a daily basis.
Mom: Let’s end on a positive. Is there anything about being autistic you appreciate?
Ben: I’m funny. I don’t really care about social appropriateness, so I can see people for what they really are.
Mom: And who should parents of autistic children be listening to for advice?
Ben: Their children