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This blog was written by guest author, Jennifer Halberstein.
She is a Team Leader on the Voice and Vision, Inc. Independent Monitoring for Quality team. See her bio below.
When a family member is diagnosed with Autism, so much information is thrown at you all at once. Supports, services, IEPs, waivers, and therapies are just a few of the words that you will hear. Doctors talk about deficits and limitations. Schools talk about specialized settings and modified curriculum. When I received my son’s diagnosis, I was grief stricken. Right away, I learned about the many challenges that lay ahead of him. I wondered how he would ever be successful in life given the mountain that he would have to climb. I did not consider anything positive. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that first message that I received discussed all of the abilities he would have?
From the beginning, disability was my primary focus. I researched Autism and collected binders full of information about it. How could I help my son overcome all of the difficulties that he would face? Then one day I came to the realization that I was looking at his life through the wrong lens. Along with those struggles, he has many gifts and abilities. He is just like every other human being on the planet. I examined how I thought about Autism and learned that I was stuck in such a negative place. Did I look at all of the people in my life like that? Did I focus on my neurotypical daughter’s flaws? Of course, I didn’t. So, why was I doing it to him?
I sat down and started to make a list of his abilities; all of his strengths and talents. He is funny, strong, knowledgeable, supportive, inquisitive, curious, and determined. There were so many. Right away, I knew that I had to start brainstorming about ways in which I could help him nurture these areas. I, also, had to start reminding him that he has these abilities. He can succeed in life. He can focus on the positive.
Looking at the strengths, what were some ways that we could remind him that they exist? Simple signs placed throughout the house turned out to be great. We taped them to the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the front door and throughout his bedroom.
We decided to examine the types of interests that he could pursue after High School. Which careers would utilize the things that he excelled at? We thought outside the box. He loves science but he prefers to work alone. Which jobs would fit him; not how could we change him to be able to fit into the mold of a career? That way of thinking would ultimately make him miserable.
This change of perspective altered our lives. I was able to help him build a trajectory that moved toward his best life. We looked at his strengths and mapped out a path forward. It would be a hard journey, but it would be so worthwhile. He could accomplish many things because he had the abilities to do them.
Jennifer Halberstein is the mother of a 16-year-old son with Autism. In addition, she holds a BS in Accounting along with several certifications. She completed the Leadership program in Cultural Diversity and Cultural and Linguistic Competence amongst Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities from Georgetown University. She also received a certificate from Temple University’s Institute on Disability for graduating from their C2P2 Partners in Policymaking program. She is a tireless advocate for her son. Her outside interests include reading and gardening.
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