According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students with disabilities are at-risk when it comes to being a high school graduate. To the world’s surprise, Brian graduated with a ‘regular’ high school diploma in 2001. As a family, we always watched as he marched to his own pomp and circumstance. And his march didn’t end with the chorus. As he began to take steps to join the real world my parents and I worried. Yes, Brian chose to take his Asperger’s to college! He wasn’t scared or shy in communicating what he wanted to do with his life. But I admit that I was. I did what no one should ever do — I told him he couldn’t do it. I knew he couldn’t do it. I really didn’t want him to do it. Why on earth would I want my little brother to continue being a statistic when it comes to college? And besides, I had my own work to do. I didn’t have time to help Brian while I was busy helping myself. My little brother was not going to be ridiculed and shoved into a waitlisted corner in a college classroom. I was not going to let anyone hurt his feelings and tell him he couldn’t graduate from college. So I did it myself. I told him, “No, you will not go.” But Brian knew better. He knew that what he wanted for himself was not within my rights to withhold.
Eight years later I drove down to Aiken from Columbia to see my little big brother graduate from the USCA with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science (Spring, 2014). He did it! Brian in all his six-foot one-inch big-foot goofy splendor marching across the stage to accept his college diploma. He changed his demeanor for no one. Even from high up in the stands, I could see the glory of his smile and the calmness in his pride. Although he was now a superstar to his fellow classmates, he was still Brian. And who better to know Brian, but Brian.
Later that evening at dinner, Brian smiled that smile as he looked at me. As he took a bite out of his celebratory cake, he said, “And you told me that I couldn’t do it, Big Sister . . . and I did!” I couldn’t be prouder of my little brother.
As a trained and experienced educator I know how important it is to cheer a student on. Even a little mental push can help that student make it to the next level. So how can someone be so cruel to doubt the capability of a student with special abilities? Students with Asperger syndrome rarely graduate from college. They are usually placed out of school or drop out due to pressure and nonsupport. Yet the most important thing needed for these types of students is daily support from family and friends. Here are a few suggestions for supporting students with autism from a big sister point of view:
- Let go of the fear of letting them go.
- Nurture their strong points.
- Think before you speak.
- Limited social skills may be special abilities.
Always follow up with others around them for additional input on their progress and well-being. Make sure they are feeling socially adequate to move forward. The key here is remembering its “their” feelings, not yours! [This is an excerpt from reprint from “My Little Brother Knew Better.” Learning Disabilities Association of South Carolina Fall (2015): 9-12. To read the full article and become an advocate for those affected by learning disabilities, join at www.ldasc.org.]
——————— Consider becoming a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of South Carolina (LDASC). LDASC advocates and serves parents, professionals, and adults with learning disabilities. Both professional and student membership is available. Find out more information or download an application at www.ldasc.org.