[You’ll get to read all about us. Probably more than you want to know. But first, a note about terminology:
You will notice on this site that I have alternated between “with autism” and “autistic.” This is because I respect many parents’ preference for people-first language (with autism) as much as I respect whole-person language (autistic). But I emphatically believe that the most important factor for which type of language we use should be the individuals of which we speak. Many autistic adults refer to themselves as autistic, as does my son, which is why I personally prefer to do so. However, I completely respect those whose children are not able to have a say in their descriptive terminology and prefer to use people-first language, for that reason or any other.]
My name is Tanya Savko. I am a writer and the mother of two young adult sons, Nigel and Aidan. Nigel, my older son, was diagnosed with classic autism at age three, in 1997. It was a time when I would tell parents at the playground that he had autism (as a way to explain his behavior) and they would ask, “What’s that?” It was a time when our local Barnes & Noble only had two shelves marked “special needs parenting,” and I could only find two archaic books on autism. The Internet was not the resource that it is today. There were no blogs. I couldn’t find or buy any autism books online. I felt completely alone. Except I had an autistic preschooler and his younger brother.
After his diagnosis, the behavior therapists who performed the assessments immediately enrolled Nigel in an ABA-based (fortunately non-aversive) program that lasted three years. I was an uninformed young parent and did not have access to information about ABA (this was in 1997 – see the previous paragraph), but what I witnessed seemed positive, and after a couple years he started talking. We rarely, if ever, heard spontaneous speech from him until the age of five and a half, when he slowly started to put together three-word sentences. His language acquisition challenges were compounded by his severe sensory issues, making it sometimes impossible for him to tolerate being in public places, such as grocery stores and restaurants. He indicated his distress by screaming and bolting. And in wide-open spaces where he felt more comfortable, he would wander and get lost if I was preoccupied with Aidan, my younger son, for a second.
In 2007 when Nigel turned thirteen I searched desperately for information about autism in the teen years. By then, his speech had increased tremendously, more than I even dared to imagine. But we still faced many issues caused by his autism. His sensory issues had mercifully improved (due to time and his diligence in learning to filter agonizing sounds), but they were still problematic. And his social issues, including being the target of daily bullying, were so severe that I needed to homeschool him for a year and a half because the school district did not provide an acceptable alternative. Eventually Nigel was able to return to mainstreaming (with assistance) in high school. He is now transitioning to adulthood.
In this website you’ll find the story of one family’s journey with autism. You’ll discover how I approached homeschooling my autistic teenage son. You’ll read examples of letters that I wrote to his teachers and school administration. You’ll read about his quest for friendship, how we handled the bullying, IEPs, my experience as a parent advocate in Nepal, and how I finally connected with other autism parents through blogging, when I started TeenAutism.com in 2008. I’ve written about Nigel’s development over the years, as well as the therapy and medication we’ve tried. I’ve written articles about seminars I’ve attended on puberty and safety management, as well as book reviews of helpful books on autism. And I’ve written about the emotions I’ve felt as the parent of a child with autism. The fear for his safety, the sadness when he can’t connect with others, the anger at those who take advantage of him, the worrying about his future. They’re all there in the categories listed in the sidebar on the right. But there’s also the immense, consuming love and pride that I have, and the joy that I find in the otherwise small developmental coups, in the milestones reached years after his peers, and in the profound – and often profoundly funny – things Nigel says. I celebrate both of my sons as we continue this journey.
And so, I invite you to take your time and get into TeenAutism.com. It’s now a static site, meaning that I no longer blog on it, but I will keep it up indefinitely as a reference for everyone searching for information on autism in the teen years as well as to offer encouragement to those just entering them. It’s good to know we’re not alone on this journey.
I decided at the age of four that I wanted to be a writer, and I have written ever since. My poetry and articles about autism have been featured in several publications, and my novel about raising an autistic child was published in 2010: