Mom and son duo raise awareness for Autism
Author: Sandy Petrovic
Hello! It’s nice to meet you! Ours is an interesting story we’d like to share.
The youngest of my three sons, David was diagnosed as autistic (in stages) at age two. With various therapies for half his life, combined with family support, mentorship, grit, and a constantly evolving team, David is now a middle school teacher with a master’s degree. In addition, though virtually nonverbal at the age of three, he is now a national speaker with a TEDx Talk to his credit. He has authored books, blogs, and other writings.
Having a joint lifetime of challenges, victories, and lessons learned, David and I felt the pull and responsibility to share our experiences with other special needs families coming behind us. I wanted to motivate and provide others with the possibilities and hope that I so desperately sought during David’s diagnosis and formative years. And David sought to reveal life from the perspective of someone living with autism.
David is now 29, and autism (also formerly known as Asperger’s for a segment of the diagnosed population) was not always as openly discussed or recognized as it is today. Though significant progress has been made regarding awareness and services during our journey, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding, acceptance, and opportunities. David and I felt called to be a part of continued change: to be the voices of those who couldn’t freely express their thoughts, feelings, and realities, for whatever reason. So off we set to educate special needs families, professionals in the field, and the general population on the needs, variations, and potentials of autistic people.
We aspired to squash stereotypes and to replace assumptions with reality. We wanted to help students transition to college and succeed there. We wanted to open employers’ eyes to the values and strengths of autistic candidates and to help both parties work together for smooth acclimation and mutual job satisfaction. David’s top mission was to enlighten youth and teens about bullying and its ramifications, focusing on the power of kindness to prevent it. We are still dedicated to inspiring hope and ideas through our writings and public speaking, but in changing with the times, we are excitedly finding additional avenues to impact others.
Now in my sixties and looking back at our evolution, I’ve discovered a strange but wonderful shift. Once a micromanager for every aspect of David’s life, I have now become a coach. I will always support David and continue to help him navigate self-advocacy and accommodations. I still aspire to assist him through the struggles that autism presents in his adult development. BUT he, in turn, is helping me where I am obsolete or declining as I enter senior citizenship.
Our relationship is now mutually “give and take.” I go to David for help in the many areas he is stronger in, and I answer his questions or give anticipatory reminders for new situations. I spent years helping him, but he now surpasses me in many ways.
- We are equals
- We are friends
- We are business partners
- We enjoy and support each other, and
- We have mutual respect for each other’s areas of expertise
David’s autism is now just a background consideration for me, not my constant focus. And he knows himself and has the tools to independently live and thrive in the neurotypical world while still embracing the uniqueness of who he is.
We have come full circle. And I would do it all again.
Bio: Sandy Petrovic, RN, BSN is a tutor/instructional advisor at a college academic support center for students with learning differences. She is also a public speaker alongside her son for select audiences. The duo co-authored the recently revised, 2-time award-winning Expect a Miracle: Understanding and Living with Autism. This book covers the challenges and victories of each developmental stage from toddlerhood through employment from each of their perspectives. Sandy also edited and contributed to David’s new kids’ book, See ME: The Invisible Autistic Boy. It promotes kindness, bully prevention, and acceptance of self and others for ALL children, autism or not. www.petro-autism.com