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April 2, 2018

On the Spectrum of Success: The Learning Academy at USF

By Laura Byrne

Oh hey! I’m Erica J. King. I am a student at The Learning Academy (TLA). I am a Cancer, but although I can be crabby at times, I am never shellfish. Fishy puns aside, I wasn’t always a student at TLA—heavens to Betsy, no. I had a lot of obstacles to jackhammer through. Sometimes it required two jackhammers, one from me and one from my awesome mom. I am going to give some advice to the parents out there reading this by answering three questions, but first a quick story: 

Before I went to TLA, it was my last week at my old school. I wasn’t ready to leave. It would mean leaving a good handful of my close friends. I was scared and emotional, but my mom said that maybe I should have those who I grew close to sign a journal in a yearbook kind of fashion. So that’s exactly what I did. I felt a lot better and I still have the journal (though not entirely filled). It’s still awesome and has some of my friends and people I cared about wishing me luck in TLA. I felt much better. Sure I thank them for signing it, but I also thank my mom for the idea and encouraging me by telling me that I knew the TLA teacher already whereas the other students wouldn’t. Lucky me! 

Okay, now I will answer some questions—three to be exact. Well, I feel like a genie right now. Hopefully I get more questions to answer in due time. Onto the first question I have received:  

What did my mom do to encourage me? Well, she dealt with me for 22 years (and still does), so she basically gave me endless moral support. That’s the thing though; we autistic kids and young adults are no different from children without autism. We need moral support too! 

What advice do I have for parents who have children with autism? Okay, not to restate like a bad commercial, but we need endless moral support. But here’s the thing, don’t give too much of it. If we are doing something wrong, you have to stick it to us! Give us consequences. It’s called tough love. I didn’t always get what I wanted. Example would be if a kid wanted candy before dinner, and if you said no and they started having a tantrum, people would stare wouldn’t they? Well, don’t give in. Scold them and say, “If you don’t stop right now, you will never eat a piece of candy again.” Harsh it may seem, but you can’t just wave a white flag or they will be like: “If I keep throwing tantrums, I will get whatever I want!”  

Were there any resources that helped me and my mom? Yes, there were a lot of resources for sure. I went through therapy, years of speech and occupational therapy and CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF) definitely helped! They’ve become my family! Thanks for reading this article! 

By Erica King, graduate of The Learning Academy at USF

Originally published in the April 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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