Faced with failure and an endless hassle, I dropped out of high school, and so did Cubby. He's in college now, but he's had a harder time that he might have, had the school be a little smarter or a little more cooperative, or if I'd pushed them a lot harder. But it's not my nature to whine about such things. Cubby is in school and working two jobs, and he's making his way. That's all any of us can hope for, short of rigging a lottery machine and getting away with it.
I guess my experiences show that it was possible to raise a special needs kid in ignorance in the sixties, and it's still possible to do it today. But can parents do a better job with the benefit of additional knowledge? My sense is, they can. That's why books like this exist. I wish I'd read some myself, long ago.
I also wish someone had told me about Asperger's when I was a teenager. I knew I had problems, and in the absence of an explanation like autism, I assumed I was just defective. The corrosive aftereffects of that childhood assumption followed me right into middle age, when I finally received a proper diagnosis. Much suffering could have been avoided if I'd known at fifteen.
That's one good side to early diagnosis. Another is the benefit of early intervention. Countless medical studies have shown that kids who receive early diagnosis followed by aggressive therapy do better than kids like me, who grew up in a free-range state.
So those are two great reasons to raise kids in a state of awareness and focus. Every parent in this book does that. If I could go back in time and raise myself again, or start over with my son, I'd do the same. What parent wouldn't?
So what's the downside? I can sum it up in two words: Reduced expectations. There is a real risk that a diagnosis will place limits on a kid's development because people will forevermore say or thing, He has autism, so he can't do that . . . When I grew up, no one had any knowledge of Asperger's syndrome. That meant I was held to the same standards as every other child on the street. I had to learn to get along, attend classes, and get passing grades just like everyone else. At least, that was the idea. I followed that path till tenth grade, and then I dropped out and went my own way.
There was absolutely nothing to hold me back except myself. In fact, I often had more incentive to make my own way because I was always on the edge of starvation and ruin. In my early adult years I lived as an outlaw, working with traveling music groups, riding with bikers, and even living in the woods. I did those things because I failed in my efforts to follow the conventional path. I dropped out of school because I could not learn in the manner the teachers taught. I could not attend college because I lacked a high school diploma. And I couldn't get a good job because I wasn't a college graduate.
But I didn't let that stop me. I made my own path and found some measure of success. However, the fact that I was an outlaw and an outsider always weighed heavily on me. I was always gazing in the windows of legitimate life, wondering what it might be like inside. As successful as I became, that remained the hard truth.