When a child is born the world is full of possibilities. When a child is diagnosed with autism, for some families, the world closes in.
However, Tracey Bowen of Arlington, VT, a self-described “autism mom,” and author Stephen Shore have a different perspective.
During an event at the State House hosted by the Vermont Autism Task Force and the Vermont Disabilities Council in celebration of Autism Awareness Day they both shared their message.
“I want to lead with hope,” said Tracey. “Treat others as you would want to be treated – with dignity and respect, kindness and understanding. Don’t take on the negativity. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t feel guilty. Keep your eye on the future and on independence for your child. We need to help our children grow, to have a future. They need to learn to advocate effectively. Children need to hear from us that they can do it. Please join us with your voice for what your kids need. There is light beyond our own homes.”
A similar message was delivered by keynote speaker Stephen Shore, an author and professor who has autism himself.
“The potential of your child is unlimited,” he said. “How do you access that potential? Focus on his/her interests. People are usually interested in things that they are good at.”
He did point out, however, the concern that some people have, that these interests become hyper-focused upon and “are of such a great intensity that it interferes with daily function.” He suggested changing the perspective to “an interest of such great intensity that it motivates us and helps with daily function.”
He further explained that there are extreme strengths and extreme challenges—autism is a world of extremes. He then asked audience members to focus on promoting strengths as a pathway to success for people on the autism spectrum.
“All of my personal progress has been baby steps. I had a music teacher – he understood me. He knew I was fascinated with music and he let me have lessons on various instruments. A teacher who gets it can make all of the difference.”
At the conclusion of his speech Dr. Shore asked for questions. A young man in the audience raised his hand and inquired, “Did you have a problem in high school that people didn’t like you because you had autism?”
Dr. Shore replied, “It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, but they didn’t understand me – they thought I was weird.”
The young man replied, “You’re not weird, you are smart.”
Stephen looked at him and said, “You’re smart too.”
Hence his point: people with autism may be “different” but that doesn’t mean they have any less potential than others to do something special. Their potential really is unlimited.
According to his website, Dr. Shore was diagnosed with “Atypical Development and strong autistic tendencies” and “too sick” for outpatient treatment. He was recommended for institutionalization. Nonverbal until age four, and with much support from his parents, teachers, wife and others, Stephen is now a professor at Adelphi University where his research focuses on matching best practice to the needs of people with autism. Read more about him and his work.