Educate yourself: read, listen and learn. That is the advice given by Peter Lyden, Anthony Tomasco and Raquel Green. Now what do these three people have in common and, more importantly, who are these people? These are just three out of 3.5 million Americans who have been in some way affected by autism.
According to Autism Speaks one in 68 Americans are on the autism spectrum. That is just counting the people who are diagnosed, but what about the people that autism affects second-hand as well? Autism is the most severe developmental disability. Appearing within the first three years of life, autism involves impairments in social interaction — such as being aware of other people’s feelings — and verbal and nonverbal communication according to the American Psychological Association.
Signs of autism usually start during childhood. As most children start to walk and talk, children with autism will walk around the same time, but they often have a difficult time speaking. People with autism often have a difficult time reading facial expressions and different dialects in languages, according to AutismSpeaks.org.
These three people mentioned above were affected by autism in some way.
Peter Lyden is a Cabrini alumnus of the class of 2016. He was just like any normal kid growing up. He saw himself as any other young boy. However, from kindergarten all through elementary school he was in special ed classes, then was eventually moved to a disability resource room. He had individual education plans growing up, which allowed more time on tests and allowed him to be by himself while undergoing testing. “Teachers never really knew there was anything different about me. I was like any other kid,” Lyden said.
With all of this Peter still remained like most other children, until his fourth grade year. During this time his house was being renovated and so he had to live at his grandparents’. Up until this point, Peter’s life was very much in sync. But when the move happened, he realized he was feeling uncomfortable, things were no longer on a regimented schedule.
Peter then began getting angry all of the time. He had anger outbursts, and trouble dealing with other kids. This in turn led to Peter being placed in therapy. “My parents knew something was up when they put me in therapy, but they were never totally sure and it wasn’t until my fifth grade year that I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.”
Up until middle school, Peter’s life was not very different from most kids. He had some behavior issues and had a little extra time on school work, but besides that, he was completely normal. Middle school was when the bullying began. Peter was bullied for being different. “Those were the years kids started to undergo hormonal changes, adolescence begins and kids start acting and feeling different, and I was teased like you wouldn’t believe. I mean it happens, but for me there were a lot of other issues besides the teasing that really got to me. Eighth grade was so difficult, I did not expect the teasing or the bullying at all. I would be okay with a little bit of teasing but I mean this teasing was constant.”
Peter’s downfall was really his eighth grade year when the bullying would not stop. Luckily for him, all of that bullying would stop once he got into high school and joined the cross country team.
“My junior and senior year of high school was when cross country really became my favorite. I felt like I really fit in, Lyden said. “I kind of felt throughout school as well I was part of a community. I was making friends and it made me really love high school.”
Peter grew up as a regular kid with some differences, but his advice to anyone who experiences any form of autism is, “Come to accept it. Give your child ways of coping with this disability, be properly educated, read up about it and take advice from other parents and kids who go through it. Do not yell or criticize a kid with a disability. Just educate yourself as much as you can.”
Dr. Anthony Tomasco is a psychology professor who graduated from Temple University with a psychology degree. He has also taught children with autism and can recall one child in particular.
“I taught a high functioning autistic child and sometimes when a child has a high functioning form of autism they also are extremely educated and have an extraordinary gift, usually in mathematics or science.”
Tomasco has taught autistic children at the college level and he recalls that usually once the students are in college they have dealt with their disability for many years now and they have mastered their differences. They know what they like and do not like, they know how to go through everyday life the way they feel comfortable with.
“It is funny, now that I am older I think I understand what distractions kids with autism go through especially if I do not like the music around me or I am in a noisy place. It affects me differently than when I was younger.” Tomasco said.
Tomasco then explained what he believes autism is from a professional standpoint.
“I am old enough to see how ideas have changed., I came into academics in the late ’60s. I see how ideas in the classroom have changed. Mental disabilities have been more specified over the years, the concept of autism and the enlightenment we have had since the ’90s and recognitions of the incidents being much higher have really changed. The establishment of the autism spectrum, it is very common to hear that instead of just saying that is autistic.”
The biggest change we have seen in treatment is an enlightenment in behavioral technique and their teachings.
“I hate to use the word normal because that is a relevant term; however, I believe autism is not a disability, I classify a disability as the loss of something, a paralyzed person has a disability because they lost the function of their legs, but a person with autism does not have a disability in that sense of the word. They can accomplish everything if not more than a person with no ‘disabilities,’” Tomasco said
Tomasco explained that we do not have the technology yet to know what triggers autism., “It is easy to detect when a physical disability takes place, but with a mental disability such as autism, we cannot pinpoint when it takes place.”
Although Tomasco himself was not particularly affected by autism, he has learned a lot about autism through the students he has met and taught.
Dr. Raquel Green is a romance language professor at Cabrini University. On top of teaching she is also a mother. What is interesting about Green’s children is, she has two twin boys, Matthew and Jonathan; however, Matthew was diagnosed with autism. While talking to Green she did not focus on her son’s disability, she spoke about what her son has accomplished so far in his life.
Green’s sons are 28 years old. “It has been a long, long journey,”Green said.
In 1993 she noticed her son Matthew was a little different than his twin brother Jonathan. “We were originally told to take Matthew to a speech pathologist because sometimes with twins they encounter some learning or speech problems. After visiting multiple speech psychologists and no progress we got Matthew tested. In 1993 we got the official diagnosis, which was autism. Being handed this diagnosis…now what do you do? You educate yourself,” Green said.
Through all of the testing and doctor visits, the Greens were then introduced to a brilliant idea. A professor from UCLA came to Haddonfield, N.J. and established a research base called the Autism Project which was used to help kids with disability learn from home.
Green had originally put Matthew in a special education class. Matthew was a smart boy, but was learning inappropriate behavior from the other kids at school that Green found unacceptable. After hearing about this home school program, she then began to educate herself.
She read a book by Catherine Maurice titled “Let me hear your voice.” The book was about a mother who had an autistic child and she began to homeschool her child using this program “The Autism Project.” So Green decided to try it out. She invited several people over to learn about autism because at the time she had no reference. She then began this program in February of 1994 when her son Matthew was five years old.
“A Woman from Slovakia actually ended up moving into our house for four years, and we ran the programs with many students who worked in Matthew’s program. Over time we got funding from our local school district and then we began to fund this program and teach many kids that were just like Matthew! It was mind boggling,”Green said.
“Over time Matthew began to learn how to learn with direct instruction. We then began to mainstream him and Matthew understood most of the material before the other kids because he would go to school, then we would go over all the material he learned that day when he came home. Matthew was doing 10 extra hours of school work a week,” Green said.
“Over all this time we never put Matthew on any medication, we just regulated his diet and made sure he ate healthy.”
Green is a mother with an autistic son, and the advice for any parents with autistic children she gives is, “Educate yourself, read about it, ask questions and be patient. Matthew is my teacher, I have learned so much from his journey of growing up. Just be happy.”
Green wishes to leave everyone with the final message, “Maybe the special people are sent to us to remind us that the world does not always have to be the same.”