My autistic son has had dozens of doctors, therapists, intervention specialists, teachers, aids, coaches and camp counselors, and most of these individuals and their programs have been very helpful for Tommy. Nine years of special attention have been good for him. He went from an anxious child with behavior problems, with average grades to a more confident 12-year-old who won the citizenship prize at school, with straight As and an Honor Roll certificate.

In getting Tommy “up to speed,” it took many helpers.  My husband and I owe much to them.  In fact, there is no way to repay them.  They chose to help Tommy because they saw promise and good in him.  They nurtured him, and he bloomed in their presence.  These people were so fine that they enabled Tommy to be mainstreamed in school with so-called “normal” children.

But there were some programs and “helpers” who were counterproductive.  These, in many ways, are more compelling to examine than the ones who contributed to Tommy’s success.

Where and with whom did Tommy fail? And what did Tommy fail at?

Tommy didn’t do well at extracurricular places that were designed for typical kids. In the end, this is not a bit surprising.

For instance, he attended a local summer camp when he was about six.  This turned out to be a disaster because there was no one there who knew how to handle a child with special needs.  In short, he misbehaved, and they kicked him out.  There was zero tolerance for children who made mistakes.  We didn’t realize this when we enrolled Tommy, but we sure knew it when they were finished with him.  The camp’s rejection of Tommy stung bitterly.

Another place that Tommy failed at was also a place for typical children. It was a local art school. The teachers at this school were very young and had no experience handling a special needs child. There wasn’t enough structure, and Tommy slowly lost interest in making art at this locale. We removed him. Another bitter sting.

Tommy’s father signed him up for basketball at our church—another mainstream venue. (You’d think we’d get the point that Tommy needed to be enrolled in special programs to succeed, but that concept took ages to sink in.) Tommy didn’t do well. He was so anxious on the court that his father had to stand next to him while he tried to learn how to shoot and dribble. This too was painful.

Then, we tried karate. Oh, how he hated this. The karate school, again, was not designed for special needs kids. The place just wasn’t created for children with his kind of brain. Ouch!

There was one school we tried where I’m sure Tommy could have succeeded if they would have made accommodations for him. This was a dance school. Tommy doesn’t like loud noise, and the dance teachers cranked the music up super high, rock concert high. Tommy couldn’t tolerate it.  We had to withdraw him. Ouch, again.

What did we learn from all of our mistakes? We had an atypical child. He needed to be in atypical schools and programs or at least with leaders and/or teachers who understood autism and how to work with an autistic child.

So what programs worked for Tommy? There were several, but the two below were very important for him.

The All-Star Training Club in Akron, Ohio. This sports club for special needs as well as typical children and adults did and continues to do wonders for our son. In this club, Tommy has participated in soccer, bowling, golfing and cross country as well as gone to summer camp. He’s been in this group since he was five-years-old, and in this environment, Tommy thrives.

Center for Applied Drama and Autism (CADA) in Akron, Ohio. This drama school knows how to teach autistic children. Tommy has been a member of this center for about three years.

So my advice to you, dear reader, is if you have a special needs child, don’t hesitate in enrolling him or her in special needs programs. You child will probably be much more successful. And you’ll be much happier.

And at the end of the day, the success and happiness of you and your child is what it’s all about.