We are not scientists, psychologists, or education
specialists. We are simply a devoted mother/son
team who embraced this “trial and error” journey years
ago with a relentless determination and tenacity that
has not waned. Simultaneous with the realization that
David had differences and special needs, I began my
search for knowledge, for resources, and mostly—for
hope. I was desperate for a guaranteed pathway of
intervention and the assurance that my little boy would
fulfill his potential and find happiness.
There was no such recipe or absolute promise.
What we did discover along the way, however, were
countless guardian angels, both lay and professional, who
added their support and special gifts to the therapies,
programs, and resources we utilized. This combination,
along with dedication and hard work, resulted in a truly
miraculous and inspirational outcome. Challenges still
exist, as they do for everyone, but David has exceeded
every dream I dared to dream—and continues to amaze
us daily with his steadfast determination to achieve
his own dreams. The intentions and motivation for
this book are numerous. First and foremost, we would
like to provide the hope for others that we sought
ourselves. Congruent with the claims of experts, our
personal testimonials will exemplify that many skills
and behaviors deficient in persons with Asperger’s
Syndrome* CAN be learned. We will show that self-fulfillment
and happiness CAN be obtained. The diversity
of Asperger’s Syndrome is concurrently fascinating yet
challenging. As emphasized by Drs. Klin and Volkmar, its
presentation varies between persons, and therapies must
vary accordingly (2). Because of this, though paramount
to David’s success, the interventions expounded upon
in this book will not be relevant or effective for all. I
defer specific therapy and education strategies to the
writings and treatment of the experts, but we hope that
our thoughts and experiences might provide additional
insights or new ideas for the reader.
In my opinion, what can universally apply is this: with
intervention, perseverance, support, optimism, and
much advocacy, persons with Asperger’s Syndrome
(AS) can reach their potentials and thrive. Central to
this premise is my passionate belief (and probably
the belief of many educators and therapists, as well!)
that families must work WITH the schools and service
providers rather than simply leaving the education
and therapy up to the professionals. Based on our own
personal experiences, additional components essential
for success are the fostering of good self-esteem in
the individual with AS, preparation for change, and a
continual sprinkling of humor. (Yes, the latter can be
Everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses.
It must be remembered that even typicals** have social
skills flaws—no one is perfect, and everyone has gifts to
contribute to the good of all. In addition, it might not
be realized that not all the characteristics of autism are
negative: there are some commendable and amazing
features that are, in fact, coveted and treasured.
The previous statement provides me with the perfect
segue to another purpose we have in writing this book.
Different does not equal inferior. We hope to stimulate an
epiphany of understanding and tolerance for those who
are perhaps unknowingly prejudiced towards individuals
with differences, with autism being one of them. We
implore these parties to rethink their assumption of
superiority and to give relationships a chance! Go beyond
superficial idiosyncrasies to explore and connect with
the person within—you may never experience more
talent, sincerity, loyalty, or unconditional love. So much
has been written about individuals with AS having
problems with understanding the ways and perspectives
of the mainstream. This is my attempt to address the
reverse. We aim to educate and inspire the “typical”
world’s understanding, appreciation, and acceptance
of those with AS/autism.
Autism expert Tony Attwood has likened people with
Asperger’s to those of another “culture” in describing
their difficulties with others who are encountered (167).
I love this comparison, for I do see many parallels that
exist between these populations. As the saying goes,
when in Rome, do as the Romans do. However, this is
pretty overwhelming to do for your entire life—especially
if one is alone and possesses rudimentary skills or
unclear understanding. As is often said on return from a
vacation, “It feels so good to be home!” But realistically
speaking, even if the language is ultimately learned and
the land and culture become better navigated, my son
will always be a visitor. Attwood states that “special
interests” can enable “order and consistency” and the
chance “to relax in the security of routine” (among
other benefits) (93-94). Thus, back to our analogy,
perhaps David’s chosen and beloved topics allow him
that sought-after home relief and familiarity.
It’s time you visit David’s country. Things are not
wrong there—they are, just simply, different! Perhaps
you may then appreciate why persons with autism
behave as they do in the “typical” world. Furthermore,
you may then learn what can be done to help them
function there more effectively without compromising
the uniqueness of who they are. Dual citizenship IS
possible! In this era of increased cultural sensitivity,
let us include Asperger’s Syndrome/autism!
In keeping with our travel theme, I am reminded of
an incredibly insightful piece which I read early on in
our journey and many times since. I share it with you
now, for it is incomparable in its powerful and brilliant
Welcome To Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley © 1987
by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
I am often asked to describe the experience
of raising a child with a disability – to try to
help people who have not shared that unique
experience to understand it, to imagine how it
would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like
planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.
You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make
your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The
Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice.
You may learn some handy phrases in Italian.
It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day
finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you
go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The
flight attendant comes in and says, “Welcome
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean
Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed
to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going
But there’s been a change in the flight plan.
They’ve landed in Holland and there you must
The important thing is that they haven’t taken
you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full
of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a
So you must go out and buy new guide books.
And you must learn a whole new language. And
you will meet a whole new group of people you
would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than
Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been
there for a while and you catch your breath, you
look around….and you begin to notice Holland
has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland
even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and
going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about
what a wonderful time they had there. And for
the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s
where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever
go away…because the loss of that dream is a
very very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact
that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be
free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely
things… about Holland.
I am still touched every time I read this poignant and
thought-provoking interpretation, and I thank Ms.
Kingsley for the comfort and perspective this piece
has provided me over the years. Continuing with this
frame of reference, I must say that, for our situation,
my husband and I let go of “Italy” long ago. We have
refreshingly found that nothing is taken for granted
in Holland, and every victory there is so much sweeter
and appreciated. As parents, our lives have been greatly
enriched by our special detour around Italy, and we
can’t imagine life any other way. We have experienced
unsurpassed joy and pride because of it and have been
humbled by our journey.
Finally, it is my hope that this book may serve as an
“orientation manual” to enable David’s significant
others (both present and future) to understand him
as I do and to interact with him accordingly. As he
approaches the developmental stage in his life when
romantic and committed relationships begin to form, I
am concerned that misunderstandings, unknowns, or
idiosyncrasies could jeopardize their quality. The same
holds true for the world of employment. Perhaps this
book will facilitate communication of subtleties in order
to minimize exasperation and maximize opportunities
for his success and fulfillment on all levels.
Though each person with autism is distinct, we hope that
there are select anecdotes in this book that resonate with
every reader. Our hope is that others may benefit from
our experiences. Following each chapter, the “lessons
we learned” are a summary of personal convictions and
conclusions. They are a subjective culmination of what
I have surmised on David’s unique life journey. In later
chapters, many come from David himself. Some lessons
were gleaned the hard way: they were learned from my
mistakes or missed opportunities. Others took root from
the people, strategies, and occurrences which positively
impacted David’s still-evolving success. Surely, readers
will not unanimously agree with all of my decisions,
deductions, or tactics, but I hope additional avenues
for help or improved quality of life may be illuminated
*Asperger’s Disorder was identified as a diagnosis
in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth
Edition (DSM-IV™) in 1994 (75, 77). Alternate
names I have commonly seen substituted are
Asperger Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger’s
Syndrome, Aspergers, and Asperger’s. For the
purposes of this book, we will mainly utilize
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) or Asperger’s, per
personal preference. See the next chapter for the
changes imposed by the DSM-5™.
**Simply for ease in writing, I occasionally refer
to individuals without AS/autism as “typicals,”
shortened from “neurotypical,” as frequently
seen in other works. I intend no offense with this
categorization and hope none is taken.
In order to protect privacy and retain anonymity,
names and places have been changed or omitted
except for family, David’s childhood psychologist,
and his first-grade teacher.
The authors share their ideas and experiences
with readers, but they take no responsibility for
outcomes. The contents of this book do not replace
medical or professional intervention.
Hello! My name is David Petrovic. Now, like my mother said,
we are not any kind of Ph.D. experts, but we do have some
insight based on our experiences. I am writing this book
because I want it to be a beacon of hope for typicals, families,
and exceptionals alike. There are three principles that I’ve
learned in my life that I want to get across in this book:
1. Don’t settle for a life that people expect you to live because
you have a disability. Go for the life that you “want” and
don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of you living
that life; I didn’t.
2. I am a person with an exceptionality (key word: PERSON).
People with disabilities aren’t mutants or other worldly
species; we’re just what we are: people! The one rule I’ve
used in my life is the Golden Rule: Treat others the way
you want to be treated. Simply, you’re nice to someone,
you get it back, and vice versa. At school, the office, and
social events, don’t be too quick to judge someone based
on what you see on the outside. Take a chance to actually
have a conversation starter. You may be surprised by
what you learn.
3. Everything happens for a reason! It is my ULTIMATE
belief that everything we go through in life has a certain
purpose. Whether positive or negative, the experiences
that life has to offer make up who we are as people.
Throughout this book, you will be getting the perspectives
of both the mother and the son. My mom’s views will be in
regular print and mine will follow in italics.