Life is not like the TV show, The Good Doctor, at least not for my two autistic boys.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show, The Good Doctor is about Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon, played by Freddie Highmore, who has savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join the surgical unit at the prestigious San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital -- a move strongly supported by his mentor, Dr. Aaron Glassman. Having survived a troubled childhood, Shaun is alone in the world and unable to personally connect with those around him, but he finds his niche using his extraordinary medical skill and intuition to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues.
Yeah, right! I truly hope that life is like that for other autistic kids, but it isn’t our world. My oldest son has an almost savant-like mechanical, electronic ability. He has been obsessed with cars since he was two. He sees things in 3-D and can figure out how most things work easily. In elementary school, he was doing math that his teachers couldn’t do, but in middle school they decided he was dumb and would only give him picture math (one apple + one apple = ?).
That same philosophy has continued on through school and now to his work. Too intelligent for a day program gluing macaroni and paper, they have tried to place him in an automotive setting in the community. After volunteering for a number of years, he was hired at an automotive repair garage…as a janitor with the promise that they would hire him to change oil. Finally, his job coach company hired a job coach with mechanic abilities and certification. He was supposed to work with my son one-on-one to make sure nothing went wrong. After months of employment, the job coach said to the owner of the shop, “Look, when are you going to let him change oil?”
The answer was, “Never.”
At the time, I wasn’t told any more than that and so my son changed jobs. (With not much more success.) He still hasn’t been given an opportunity to demonstrate what he can actually do.
So, then comes along my other son, also autistic. His school experience was much the same—negative. He has a love of animals, particularly dogs. He wanted to go into the Animal Science program at Salt Lake Community College his senior year. His autism cluster teacher told him he wasn’t smart enough. He couldn’t learn the anatomy. He couldn’t do the math. He couldn’t do it. Period. I spoke with the doctor teaching the program, and he told me kids of all abilities are welcome in his class. I got the district involved, but even the vice principal was negative about my son taking the course. He also told us his cluster teacher refused to help him if he did it anyway. Seriously? What kind of teacher doesn't want their students to succeed?
What you must understand is that people with autism may have difficulties focusing on things, but when they are interested, they are extremely capable. They tend to hyper-focus and are almost obsessed with the subject.
Without special treatment in the Animal Science course, my youngest son passed with straight As and special certifications.
He has been working for an animal hospital for five years as a boarding technician for minimum wage. He has worked there longer than any other employee except one. Recently, we met with his Vocational Rehabilitation counselor to ask again that he be allowed to take on new tasks. We were told that the hospital was a business and are there to make money. They will not risk their business on someone with autism. (At least that’s what their office manager told Voc Rehab.)
I realized at that moment, neither of my children were going to be given the opportunity to prove themselves. I cried for a week. I laughed and scoffed at The Good Doctor. I considered life cruel and wondered why I worked so hard for my boys. Then, I got angry.
I refuse to give up. We have fought so many battles. This is just one more. There has to be companies out there that consider their employees more important than their bottom line; not that I’m asking them to let my son repair a car on his own or my other son to perform surgery on someone’s dog without the proper training, but they are both more capable than the world as defined them.
Life may not be like The Good Doctor for us, but nothing is stopping us from changing our little corner of the world.
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
Fly into a good book at: http://www.dragonflyromance.com