College Blog (2/3/22)

As I help my son work on his college applications, I am reminded of the journey it took to get here. We know something was different about him when he was about 18 months old. It was our pediatrician, who, unlike so many other pediatricians, did not ignore our concerns and mentioned the possibility of autism. She referred us to the Regional Center. So, I called them (and called and called and called). And a few months later I received the diagnosis I had been dreading. Nick had autism spectrum disorder. I can remember asking his aide what his life would be like. Would he ever be able to live an independent life? Would he go to college? Or even high school? She had no answers for me. I was terrified.

The next several years were a blur of different therapies for Nick to attend. There was ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), PT (Physical therapy) OT (Occupational Therapy), and Speech. I spent 30 hours a week taking Nick from session to session. It was like having a second job. And when I wasn’t taking Nick to therapy, I was going to classes or conferences so that I could learn more, surrounded by parents grieving for the neurotypical children they thought they’d have. Sobbing parents became a staple of my weekends.

But little by little, things improved. Language came in a big rush when he was three (something I came to regret when he became a teenager) and the therapy was gradually reduced to ABA alone and an aide at school. And soon enough the aide was faded out as well. By the time he was 8, his developmental pediatrician told us that Nick had “graduated” from needing to see her. Soon after that, the home ABA therapy sessions ended as well.

When he started a very competitive middle school, we spend a lot of time butting heads and sought out educational therapy for Nick (or more truthfully for both of us). For Nick, it was the start in learning how to deal with his executive functions and for me, it was a chance to learn to back off from harping on him about his homework. They are lessons we’ve had to revisit over and over again. Executive function will always be something Nick struggles with (and I will always be a pain in the ass nagging parent). But Nick’s done terrific. He’s an Eagle Scout and is about to run his second marathon.

And last week we found out he was accepted to the University of Michigan.

So much for not being able to go to college. As my son said to me that day, “I’m very happy.” And so am I.

But let me be clear about one thing. There are many parents of children with special needs who will never reach this point. And it has nothing to do with the dedication, love, and hard work they’ve put in for their children.

What my son has been able to achieve is a product of dozens of people who dedicated their lives to helping people like Nick. It’s a product of Nick’s hard work and it’s a product of luck. Luck that our pediatrician caught it early. Luck that we found the right people along the way and luck that he was able to thrive along the way.

Not everyone will be as lucky. But I firmly believe that every child, no matter what their deficits are, can have their lives improved significantly if we, as a society make it a high priority to help every child with special needs accomplish everything they can.

Go Wolverines!