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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Understanding A Son With Asperger’s, With Help From Clinton And Bush

As a longtime journalist, former White House correspondent Ron Fournier is used to dissecting the complicated presidents and policies he’s covered for the Associated Press.

But for years, he simply couldn’t understand his own young son Tyler. That is, until two former Presidents – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – helped him learn how to accept his son’s autism.

Fournier writes about his emotional journey in a much-commented-upon personal essay in National Journal, titled “How Two Presidents Helped Me Deal with Love, Guilt and Fatherhood.”

And Fournier says he’s worried, like other Asperger’s parents are, about how the recently-announced decision to drop Asperger’s as a specific autism diagnosis might affect his son’s ability to get assistance in school.

He writes about that worry in a piece called “New Asperger’s Rule: ‘What Does This Mean for My Son?’” and he talks about it in this audio clip:


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  • Maggie

    Great story, thank you.

  • Dltsbn

    Though I enjoyed this story…do you really think that a few moments spend with former presidents tolerating your son’s behavior is indicative of the understanding your better than you, his father…or that they were more accepting.

    It is easier to be accepting of one’s “differences” “peculiararities” when that person will not be around you often or you are not responsible for their upbring, assuring that they will be productive members of society and have a happy life.

  • Swoody2010

    Thank your for this wonderful interview.  One of our twin boys has Asberger’s which wasn’t diagnosed until 7th grade!!  Ian and Tyler are peas in a pod and I love your story!  Thanks again.

  • Ron Wheeler

    Thank you for the provocative discussion of Asperger…and yes, the behavioral aspects described by Ron ring loud and clear to me in trying to understand the social difficulties I have experienced personally, but more importantly, that same non-social, isolating behavior of my nephews and nieces.   Brilliant kids, but I can’t seem to develop an ongoing social relationship with them…maybe this is the looking glass I have been searching for to try to get to a better place with a more vibrant interaction.  I will be reading on subject beginning today!!!

  • Jennifer R

    Is there a way to get an audio copy of this interview? I’d really like my husband to hear it.

    • Rachel Rohr, Here & Now

      Hi Jennifer, if you send him the link to this page, he should be able to click the play button on the SoundCloud at the top of the page. You can also click the “Download” button (on the right side of the SoundCloud) to save it. Thanks for listening!

  • http://twitter.com/mofycbsj Brian

    He wants his son to get assistance in school? Of course the
    churlish would deride this as “the dependency culture.”

    • RobertLongView

      How about a magnet charter-type school just for aspies?

      • Marie, Mom of 2 Aspies

        Robert, I wanted to do that in MA.  When I called the state to find out about setting it up, they told me they would not allow a school for a restricted group.  This was despite Gov. Patrick stating that he was encouraging the creation of charter schools for low performing districts and special needs students. 

        • RobertLongView

          On second thought, I guess the goal is to get all the kids together and not segregated?  

          • Marie, Mom of 2 Aspies

            Yes, Robert.  But for a period of time, around second or third grade, many kids with autism or Asperger’s may learn better in an environment without neurotypical peers.  I know for one of my sons, the stress of trying to keep up with the social interactions in a regular classroom was too much.  Though he is intellectually quite advanced, he was not able to access the curriculum because of all the social “noise”.   As a result, he would have meltdowns at school and would sometimes be physically aggressive.  I homeschooled him for a year and he is now at a school that works with childrn who have emotional/behavioral/social difficulties.  He is doing wonderfully there.

            I do think if the states allowed charter schools with specialized programs, children could stay closer to their home communities.  Also, I would expect it would be more cost effective for the local school districts.

  • Ingridbergercville

    Great story. I would not change my son with Asperger’s, either. With the challenges there are many gifts. There is a pervasive belief that those on the spectrum lack empathy; I disagree. My 13 yr. old son feels emotions very deeply . . . He wants to be a social worker so he can help people and wants to fight homelessness in the process! I hope your story can bring more tolerance and understanding. Thank you.

  • D2stanek

    Thank you for this story. My son is at the other end of the spectrum and talks too much and gets to close. Some days are hard but I wouldn’t change him at all.

  • RobertLongView

    Autism has a POTUS political spectrum underbelly, eh?  This helps explains the Washington DC gridlock we all face.  Those “political junkies”we  elected could have a psychological complex.  

    • Marie, Mom of 2 Aspies

      Not psychological as much as neurological.  Aspies/autistics have brains that actually function differently from “neurotypicals”.  Besides, if DC was full of Aspies, there would be much more honesty because Aspies can be PAINFULLY honest.  Only, they aren’t trying to inflict pain.

      • RobertLongView

        The only ones I see fall through the cracks and wind up at the psych hospital where i work.  My heart goes out… .

        • Marie, Mom of 2 Aspies

          Robert, thank you not only for your concern but for the work you do.  The world needs more people willing to extend themselves to those who struggle to move through it.  Thank you for being one of them.

  • Jodi

    I am the parent of an aspie too. He was not diagnosed till almost 19. I feel we are lucky, he has a job has been to NHTI and continues to take classes there and he finally has friends. I worry about the change in the DSM because my son finally has a written diagnosis. Growing up he was misdiagnosed and because of it suffered being put out of public school and sent to placements for emotionally handicapped kids. Are we going to go back to those days when there was no name for how he is??? Will he be able to get services should he need them someday?? Does he have to get a new diagnosis? All this stresses me out worrying about what will become of him should he ever lose his job and have to apply for help. 

  • Mary R

    Would like to DEPEND on my school to educate my child, and that means ASSISTING him to develop coping strategies…If they can pay for sports, why not for EDUCATION? How much potential is lost by being penny-wise and pound foolish?

  • Jnolsen

    What a beautiful story, Ron.  Thanks for an enlightening and heartfelt drive to work! 

  • Cathy V.

    My son was diagnosed with autism right before his third birthday, in 1998, when the incidence of this “disorder” was 1 in 10,000. We live in a rural area in New England and there were no services currently in place. We had to design an implement a mosaic of treatment strategies and interventions, including speech pathology, occupational therapy, and play therapy, with a focus on applied behavioral analysis as a means of structuring an overview and obtaining data regarding progress. Lo and behold, our son began talking at 4 years and progressed in his functioning such that he was reevaluated at six years at the local medical center and “upgraded” to Aspergers. He was able to attend elementary school with some supports and no longer needed an IEP by fifth grade. He now is attending a private boarding school as a day student, having matriculated without divulging his diagnosis. 

    Henry began as a non-verbal, non-social child who lined things up and would not make eye contact or point . He was unable  to play team sports and was obsessed with dinosaurs and Thomas the Train Engine and  many other specific interests. He now is a happy, highly functioning 17 year old who drives and dates. He is in the top of his class, runs on the cross country team and skis enthusiastically, both alpine and nordic. He is an open, honest, affable young man, a credit to his family, school and community. Every pain-staking step of our journey has been worth it to be where we are now. 

    • Miamitch

      Hi Cathy – my son sounds familiar to those. I am curious to know what boarding school he attended as a day student.we r currently looking into private schools for my so who is also very bright but has many signs of an Aspie.

  • Susie F

    It’s stories like this that make me the rabid NPR fan I am.  It was so touching and enlightening.  Thank  you for a great piece!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000417225449 Clifton Bencke

    I thought I was listening reasonably closely, but other than a mention at the end, I didn’t hear anything about the boy’s mother. 

    • Robin

      Then let me rush to say, earlier on we talked about how Ron says his wife Lori is the true hero in the story, the one who recognized Tyler’s behavior in a TV character, shed tears and took responsibility for his depression, and then sent father and son on their bonding trips.

      All best

  • John

    I listened to this piece driving from Indianapolis to Chicago and it brought tears to my eyes.  My son who just turned 18, and has just recently been diagnosed with ADD,  fits the description of Tyler to a tee.  I too have often cringed at his social awkwardness  and inability to pick up on social cues.   I have often been very hard on him over his behavior, and can see now that  he is not the only one who needs to modify their interactions with others. Thank you for this article,  it has opened my eyes to the fact that maybe some of his behaviors are not totally his fault, and can be worked on.  Thanks, a  very guilty feeling Father

  • Marie, Mom of 2 Aspies

    Thank you for this doing this piece, Robin.  This is a concern that my husband and I have for our sons, as well.  The needs of children with classic autism are different from those with Asperger’s.  I fear that children at both ends of the spectrum will be lose out because of this change, both educationally and medically.

    I wish the best for Mr. Fournier and his family and to all parents decidated to their children.

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