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How would it make you feel if a highly skilled physician or psychologist were to inform you that your child is neurologically wired similarly to such creative geniuses as Albert Einstein, Michelangelo or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

It might surprise you to learn that Einstein, Michelangelo, and Mozart are all now considered by leading experts in the field of psychology to have been living with an autism spectrum disorder. And famous celebrities such as Daryl Hannah and Dan Aykroyd have been diagnosed with autism as well.

While having an autism spectrum disorder certainly does present numerous daunting challenges, it should never be seen as defining someone’s entire existence.

I should know. I’m autistic too.

I have a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a higher functioning form of autism that affects my sensory processing (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) and causes me to feel uncomfortable and behave awkwardly in many social settings.

But even though I’m autistic and noticeably different from my peers, it hasn’t stopped me from becoming a published author, Mensa member, and getting listed in the World Genius Directory.

My greatest regret in life isn’t being autistic. I’m extremely thankful for my Asperger’s that allows me to focus for extended periods of time and makes me a memorably unique human being.

My greatest regret is that my grade school years were far more difficult than necessary because I didn’t receive my autism spectrum disorder diagnosis until I was an adult.

This new school year provides us all with a tremendous opportunity to make sure that every precious child be given the best possible start in life. Teachers, counselors, and paraprofessionals are all being trained in how to provide appropriate special accommodations for these very special students. But children with ASD aren’t likely to receive the help they deserve without first receiving a proper diagnosis.

Any parent who believes their child might be displaying signs of autism — such as frequently engaging in repetitive behaviors, obsessive interests, being highly sensitive to sensory stimulation, social awkwardness, etc., may be well advised to have their child screened by a trained professional.

While no child should ever be expected to grow up to become an Einstein, Mozart or Michelangelo, isn’t it encouraging to know that some autistic children have achieved such mastery in their chosen fields of endeavor? And with the help of loving parents, caring teachers and skilled professionals, your autistic child will be granted the opportunity to pursue the specific levels of greatness unique unto themselves.

Remember, autism is nothing for anyone to be ashamed of — only the ignorance often surrounding it deserves our scorn.

Jeffrey Ford, East Lansing

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