My Son Christopher was in Pre-school when he began to show signs of atypical behavior. He acquired skills like saying the alphabet backwards but couldn’t introduce himself to his peers. He was intrigued by trains. He collected, lined them up and tracked them much of his day. Pre-school was a challenge because Christopher’s social skills were not up to the rest of his peers. He knew the name of every train affiliated with The “Thomas the Train” series. Not only did Christopher have a great deal of difficulty socially, he especially had difficulty parting with his favorite objects. His preferred objects were trains and then eventually gravitated to various other items. Christopher could not articulate his needs and required a great deal of prompting to keep up with the group. Although had various developmental challenges his personality was warm, laid back and his face always had a smile on it. He naturally drew the affection of others by his friendly, welcoming spirit. Everyone that came into contact with Christopher grew to become fond of him because of his sweet disposition. In fact he still bears that likeable disposition.
The county that we reside in does not offer many desirable pre-school settings and my husband and I didn’t feel safe utilizing the public schools. We choose to utilize private school due to some of these reasons. Initially we met resistance with getting the support and understanding that is needed to help a child diagnosed with Asperger’s. In the private school we were told early on that our son Christopher could not succeed academically because of his social and emotional deficits. I know now that this feedback was a direct result of a lack of education and awareness regarding Asperger’s. This diagnosis can be misinterpreted as negative and therefore all people see is limitations instead of possibilities.
After advocating for the idea of bringing support into the school for my son, the school administration at our local private school reluctantly agreed. The principal even stated “I worked in the public schools therefore I am familiar with wrap around services I don’t think it will work”. As most parents who have children with a diagnosis could identify with “I plowed forward” while encouraging that every avenue of support for my son be given a try. As a parent with a child with a disability that isn’t outward or always able to be seen physically, our advocacy often takes shape of obtaining resources and convincing others to implement them.
Shortly after this hurdle, we obtained a Therapeutic support aid to come into the school to work with my son Christopher. Her name was Megan. She was a beautiful college student who immediately bonded with our son. As a result of her support and assistance, Christopher began to develop social and emotional self -help skills. The school and everyone around us got to see firsthand that children with Aspersers can thrive. Educators got to see that children with Asperger’s often learn process and relate to the world around them differently. The key word is differently. Educators got to see that often there strategies and teaching modalities warrant some changes to accommodate the learning styles of their students. This includes the student with Asperger’s.
The road we have travelled and continue to travel is one that includes constant advocacy and support. Christopher is now entering 10th grade. He is an excellent basketball player despite early apraxia and gross motor delays. He played for the school basketball team this year which was a dream come true. Christopher’s biggest challenge in basketball is as you may have guessed is “Reading the Cues” of his team mates and integrating his skills as a team player. Christopher’s basketball has been an outlet for him in many ways. He has learned to bond with the team. His social skills have been challenged further and therefore developed. Christopher met the demands of his limitations and sought to develop where his disability causes deficits.
Christopher has worked very hard to achieve academic, social and emotional progress. Slowly we have begun the process of passing the baton of advocacy from me as his mother to him as an individual. Christopher is a very likable young man. He could be coined as very shy and socially awkward. Never the less he has achieved friendships. Social situations primarily new ones can be challenging especially as he navigates the adolescent mainstream. We are teaching him to obtain resources and support for these challenges. This year we attended a social skills program at the well-known Kinney center in Philadelphia. Christopher was connected to a college student who taught him all about idioms (something often those Asperger’s have a hard time grasping). We are learning that success to overcome the challenges associated with Asperger’s is often built upon education and relationships. It’s all about reaching pass the gaps and perceived deficits.
My son was the first student to receive TSS (Therapeutic Support or also known as wrap around services) in our private school setting. This has opened the door for other students diagnosed with Asperger’s to acquire those same services. The fear has been removed and the misconception that those with Asperger’s need a special setting to thrive has been removed. I have the privilege of hearing my son be complimented for his compassion and kind spirit. Who would have thought someone who is supposed to not be able to recognize or empathize with others would excel past his typical peers in this area. Yes, He is a rule follower and he has difficulty if something new arises and he has a hard time with going into a post office asking for stamps. However, these are skills that can be reinforced. The character and depth of what overcoming the stigma of his diagnosis has instilled in this young man is remarkable. He is an example of not letting limits or diagnosis define you. I smile at our journey and look toward the future of his success. I plan to use his story to encourage and empower others who share the Asperger’s diagnosis.
Ericka Potts is the mother of three children ages 15, 12 and 4. Her son Christopher was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 7. Her youngest son Nathan was diagnosed with Autism at age four. Advocating for and supporting her children have been by far one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences. Ericka is passionate about helping her sons develop and grow in ways that will show the community that those diagnosed with Asperger’s and special needs have great potential. Ericka also believes that children diagnosed with Asperger’s as well as children on the spectrum as a whole are inspirational and have gifts and talents that our communities need.
Ericka holds a Bachelor of Social work from Cairn University and a Master degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University. She is now using her education and experience to participate in research and to support families who have children with special needs. Currently, Ericka is working at a private school as a guidance counselor. Ericka, her husband, Christopher and their 3 boys make their home in Philadelphia PA. It is her desire to increase the awareness of the potential of those diagnosed with Asperger’s and those on the spectrum while supporting families throughout that process.