Proud Mother of An Autistic Scholar Ask Me Anything!

Nikki O'Neal
Apr 11, 2018

I'm a proud mother of a Autistic College student(yes that's right college student)soon to be a graduate student in Spring 2019. He was diagnosed in  the Fall of 1999.  My son has overcame many obstacles and dispelled several stereotypes.  From special education programs to deans list his progress gives me chills every time I think about it . Every one that told me what he couldn't do he has mastered every task.  Ask me about our journey.

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When your son was initially diagnosed, did your child’s/children’s school help you with the process?
Apr 17, 8:19AM EDT0


Yes, his Pre K program was very instrumental in getting a diagnosis,(age 3 1/2-4) We worked with a program called STEPS and they came out and observed him at my suggestion and they along with his doctor was instrumental in getting him the help he needed starting with educating me.(Now this was after I moved to another  state)   

Apr 17, 2:47PM EDT0
What is your current relationship with your son? How do you see it improve and get more close in recent year?
Apr 16, 6:33PM EDT0


He’s my best friend,we are very close and I don’t see that changing. 

Apr 16, 7:39PM EDT0
What have been the easiest parts of your son's treatment, and what (if anything) surprised you?
Apr 16, 10:33AM EDT0
In retrospect, what would you like to change in the kind of help you received in your son's treatment?
Apr 14, 1:10PM EDT0


Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger — if we didn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. I wished that people stopped and took a moment to understand before they judge.  My son could've been diagnosed 2 years earlier if doctors would've took the time to just observe him and put a plan together instead they did nothing.   Now there are lots of screening that they perform by 18 months to determine signs of Autism.  More research is needed on all ends. Parents need to stand up and demand help!  Be an advocate for your child!      

Apr 16, 8:35AM EDT0
What was your son`s environment at college towards him?
Apr 14, 6:34AM EDT0

Hello Maggie!

It was like any other situation it took some time for his peers to get "use" to him, he has very thick skin so all the side comments doesn't really bother him anymore and so now he's really popular. He has countless speaking engagements around campus and the city.  He speaks about issues around campus that he's passionate about. He sits on commitee panels.  He's an all around student that happens to be autistic.  They like to pick his brain because it forces them  to see things through his eyes and he's always out side the box. 

Apr 16, 8:25AM EDT0
People often mix autism with some difficult mental conditions. Why do you think this is mostly the case?
Apr 14, 6:10AM EDT0


They have similar characteristics.  Some kids with learning and attention issues struggle with the same skills as kids on the autismspectrum (also known as “autism spectrum disorder” or ASD). Kids with learning and attention issues can have sensory processing issues, meltdowns, trouble with social skills and other challenges that also affect kids with autism.  For kids with autism, the main struggle involves social understanding,   communication and repetitive routines or behaviors—including narrow and obsessive interests.  For instance, a child with visual  processing issues may stand too close to someone during conversation because he has trouble judging distances. A child with autism might stand too close because he has a poor sense of personal space. (thats the diffrence) 

Apr 16, 8:46AM EDT0
Do you think that autism is a condition that is a bit misunderstood?
Apr 14, 4:19AM EDT0


Yes ma'am 100 percent!

Apr 16, 9:08AM EDT0
What was the hardest period in the life of your son for you as a parent?
Apr 13, 6:11AM EDT0


Middle School was the hardest! that period between 6-8th grade. That was the absolute worse! OMG the teachers!!!! they were no help. I stayed at the school,everything he said was a problem,everything he did was a problem. No one understood him no one wanted to. The students were so cruel and mean.  He was teased,bullied and choked so thats when he was transfered to another middle school and finally was able to just be a kid.  

Apr 13, 8:58AM EDT0
Do you think that you being a school counselor is what helped the whole situation?
Apr 13, 5:59AM EDT0


Well I had my son at a young age I was 20 when he was born so I wasn't a professional at that point,I  become a counselor almost 10 years later so we had already been through hell and back by now.  I started off in the nursing field,I was a LPN for 10 years prior and my mother was diagnosed with cancer and as a result she died so I immediately knew that I couldn't  go back into a hospital and that's where the career change came. It definitely helps that I'm in that field but the struggle was definitely real and you don't think of all your school training when youre in a real situation. Its hard to think of your child as your patient, you just want to be his mother.         

Apr 13, 8:50AM EDT0
With all of the people saying your child could not do normal things did you ever lose hope and how did you overcome this?
Apr 13, 5:59AM EDT0


I had a praying mother!!! that said "Oh he will Do!" God Rest her soul! She wouldn't let me lose hope. She was my rock!  

Apr 13, 9:10AM EDT0
Do you wish you had known earlier and how would this change your parenting style?
Apr 12, 4:27PM EDT0


Well I knew as soon as age two that something was wrong  even if I knew from the womb that something was wrong I don't think i could've done anything much different. The information just wasn't made available so we did the best we could.  

Apr 13, 9:01AM EDT0
How has having an autistic child forced you to grow as a human and as a parent?
Apr 12, 6:09AM EDT0


Having an autistic son has made me such a well rounded person,I'm not afraid to take chances(he taught me that) Im not afraid of what people may say about me. I live out loud, I love hard and I'm not afraid to be vulnerable.  As a parent he's taught me patience and what unconditional love truly is. As with all of my children  they collectively have made me a better person.   

Apr 12, 8:58AM EDT0
When you learned he had autism what were the immediate changes in your life and what took more time to sink in?
Apr 12, 6:09AM EDT0


Well even before the diagnosis I knew something was wrong so my everyday  way of doing things had to change. The music I listened to had to be of a smooth jazz feel when he was around,the way I organized my house(play area up front so I could always have my eyes on him and he could see himself in a floor mirror when he plays. We had to have a set schedule in which his activities were done.  Ex: he knew when Barney came on that it was time to eat lunch ,then we have story time. This was set in his mind and everyday like clock work he was ready to eat then mommy reads and work on a lesson with me.  What was hardest to sink in was the reaction we got from people just out in the world through everyday interaction,EX;If a weird sound happened and he would have an episode  people would stare and point until he calmed down.  So the fact that he  would live in a world that people are so judgemental and emotionless and bias took a minute to sink in     

Apr 12, 8:52AM EDT0
When you did not know what to do where did you look for advice and what was most helpful?
Apr 12, 2:54AM EDT0

Hello Rudi!

When I didnt have the answers I looked to my parents and God. Understanding the power of God gives you strength and encouragement and with his guidance you know that you can accomplish anything.  I was on a mission and even when I got down and it looked like there was no way out, I always knew that there was light at the end of the tunnel and that we would get there together. I prayed alot. God's word was most helpful to me.

Apr 12, 8:39AM EDT0
Are there any newborn screening procedures today that can diagnose autism at an early age?
Apr 12, 2:41AM EDT0


  Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult, since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child's behavior and development to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger.

Apr 13, 9:14AM EDT0
What is your advice to parents who just found out their child has autism?
Apr 11, 5:47PM EDT0


My advice is to not panic and know that it’s not your fault and seek help right away. Don’t let fear and denial cause your child to suffer. Work with your child as soon as you feel something is wrong. Don’t take no for an answer.

Apr 11, 6:46PM EDT0

What was your first reaction when you first found out your son was autistic?

Apr 11, 2:13PM EDT0


Like most parents I was confused,anxious,sad,discouraged.  It wasn't comforting finding out that somethings wrong with your child  and no one knows what to do. I was certainly overwhelmed with all of the" what if's and what did I do wrong?" Alot of guilt because I thought it was my fault. Alot of raw emotions.  

Apr 11, 2:37PM EDT0
It must have been difficult at first; at want point did you get used to being a parent of an autistic child?
Apr 11, 11:52AM EDT0


It was difficult because I didn't know what was going on with him  at first but it was never a "getting use to " phase he was my son and I loved him with or without his disability.  I guess getting others on board was the task.      

Apr 11, 1:35PM EDT0
Did you get a lot of support from family and friends while raising your child?
Apr 11, 11:11AM EDT0


My family is and was amazing! I have a wonderful support system and everyone treats him as a equal.  He was never seen as  a problem for   my family everyone pitched in when needed. 

Apr 11, 1:38PM EDT0
Do you still work full time today? What do you do?
Apr 11, 10:34AM EDT0

Hello Pietro!

Yes, I still work fulltime and I'm a school counselor.  

Apr 11, 10:42AM EDT0
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