The main characters:
Me, Tasia, the mom
Nick, the kid
Karla, the mentor
Mom’s house, Dad’s house, Karla’s farm, and wherever there are reptiles
Nick is a 14-year-old autistic kid. (Yes, I called him an autistic kid, not a kid with autism. This guy has a good explanation of why.) Until last year, he was locked within a tangle of constant anxiety, raging at the world, and so down on himself that more than once he wished he were dead. Most of his counseling sessions were actually sessions for his dad and me, where we took lessons on autism and how to parent Nick because he could not spend more than a few minutes per month in her office without crashing.
One hard day, Nick complained that if he had to see a counselor, he wanted one who was autistic like him. I told him that such a person may not exist, considering that counselors spend so much time talking about feelings and other abstract concepts, and asked him if he would want to be a counselor when he grew up. He shook his head and then said “oh…” as it dawned on him that the people most “qualified” to understand him were also the most different from him.
Enter Karla, a recently diagnosed autistic adult. (No, she doesn’t mind if I call her that. See above.) Our counselor hooked us up with her as a mentor for Nick, literally within days of him asking for an autistic counselor. And Karla turned out to be not just an amazing mentor but a self-advocate who has turned her late-life diagnosis into a determination to change the way parents and experts see autism and how they work with ASD kids.
Karla is both severely affected by ASD and utterly brilliant, and she puts those together to explain the autistic perspective in a way that has already changed the minds of dozens of local professionals (including our counselor) and influenced the thinking of some of the biggest names in ASD teaching materials. Her successful career in high-tech inspires Nick and many other ASD kids to imagine the possibilities instead of fearing the future.
Within weeks of meeting Karla, Nick’s whole outlook changed and he became proud of who he is. Karla helped me and his dad recognize his strengths and map out a course for him that aims for college instead of a modified diploma, a career instead of SSI, and advocacy instead of conformity and burnout. (Aims, mind you. Nothing is guaranteed, and his path certainly won’t be conventional, but now we all have hopes we didn’t have before.) That’s just the introduction. Stay with me for many chapters to come as I catch you up on everything we’ve been through together and keep you updated as the action continues to unfold. Thanks for reading our story.