Pete: My Success Story–A Breathtaking Account of Overcoming and the Human Spirit

In this week’s blog I would like to share a story written by one of my former students who has become one of my good friends. I worked with Pete as his In-Home Trainer the four years he was in high school and less frequently as he transitioned into the work world. Pete is an inspiration to children, adults with Asperger Syndrome and parents everywhere. He never had an easy go of it. He did have a mother who never gave up and as he says in the story, “Fran was mine.” Indeed, Fran was and is his and he has inspired me every day with my own son and all the other students I encounter.
“I’m Pete. This is about my big success story.
First of all, I’ll tell you about the problems and lastly the success. My big thing was frustrations with big temper tantrums when upset, plus I was easily bothered and did not feel good unless I was getting to my luxury stuff. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) had me busy twenty-four-seven. I was diagnosed with OCD and Bipolar Disorder at age 3 and later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 14. I started taking my first medications at age 4. I went through tons of meds and was on lithium at age 8. That was insanely scary to do back then. These medications were only for adults, but my psychiatrist was one of the first to give these medications to young children. At one point in my life I began to have focal seizures and would stare and be slobbering down on the ground unresponsively. One episode lasted for 18 hours. EKG’s, MRI’s and CAT Scans were done and still no doctor figured out what was happening to me.
My case was too difficult for near-by doctors, so my mother drove us to Dallas to see neurologists and psychiatrists. By the time I was three years old, it was obvious by my behavior that I had bipolar disorder and OCD. My psychiatrist said I was one the earliest discoveries that children that young could have Bipolar Disorder. Back then people thought people didn’t get Bipolar Disorder until around age 17. I was such an interesting case my psychiatrist would see me for free!
I got angry if teased, picked on, or did not get my way. My sister was a normal person, and, of course, liked to tease me. It was Tom and Jerry all our lives until I got into high school. I was Tom retaliating at her annoyance—hitting her hard. And who gets in trouble? Me! I got spankings many times per day until I was in the eighth grade. I’ve wore blue jeans most of my life. Why? Spankings don’t hurt as bad on blue jeans as they do on shorts. My anger, though, was crazy. I’d be mad about the same thing for 48 hours. I did some stuff I shouldn’t have done. I would run off in anger (Don’t do this; you’ll regret it). But after time, I would always go back home, even though I was always very angry.
My OCD has changed to different things through my life. As a preschooler, I wanted pictures of anything I saw that I liked and I put them up on the bedroom wall. My entire room—walls, door, ceiling were all pictures. Food had to have a certain look or I wouldn’t eat it. I craved cocoa puffs and demanded them but I couldn’t eat the ones that with the bird in jail on the cover. I couldn’t eat at Wendy’s because I hated their sign with the girl on it. My mom fixed my favorite spaghetti and meatballs. One day she changed up the size of the meatballs and I couldn’t eat it. I couldn’t eat it until she went back to the original size meatball. I loved “Crunch Tators”, when the gator was dressed like a cowboy. Once the bag changed to a gator with a loose tooth, I could never eat them again.
I loved our country house. I lived there until I was age 13. I climbed high in the trees. I made traps the whole time I was up there, sometimes up to four hours. We had a huge sand creek behind three acres. I loved going in it. I played and picked up bugs and spiders. It was paradise to help with my mental strife. From back then most of the kids I went to school with remember me only for what my current OCD was—like fighting (making up tons of moves and styles and sharing them).
Today my OCD is about identity (comparisons of who I’m most like or making up my favorite traits). Until 2008, it hogged my entire day in thought and conversations. In 2008 I began to get control of this and these obsessions have dwindled every year. My current solution is I keep my identity to myself so I don’t talk to others about it and I don’t have to tell others my new form I’ve thought of. At present, when it is at its worst, I obsess a few times a week with others, but only by text message. I’m determined to stop and today as I’m writing this, ironically, I have stuck with the same identity in my head for four days for the first time ever. I love it!
At age 14, I moved in with my mom. My mom had a crazy personality, but was my true guardian. She would stand in front of a bullet for me, if she had to. After seeing one crazy-headed counselor who preached that I would go to hell of not going to school, I attempted suicide (which I had tried a couple of times when I was younger) and it failed! Yay! (Don’t ever do this. It’s lousy for you and the future holds great stuff; there is always a tomorrow!)
I went into the mental hospital and came out diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome for the first time. This got me a lot of help. Knowing about autism and its therapies has made help in my life. Fran Templeton was mine and has helped a lot. I still see her sometimes today. She knows stuff. She helped with my dad about me and he’s nicer than he was when I was in school.
I hated school and would constantly run off and skip school. The school hired a facilitator to watch me so I wouldn’t run away, but I still skipped. I wanted to do good and be a very great guy, but look at what I was doing. I went into the mental hospital a few more times.
My mom found a special school called Vanguard which helps people. She made the ISD pay for sending me there. My pet peeves in life were when people wouldn’t follow the rules. At Vanguard, they didn’t put up with that stuff. I saw bad people actually get in trouble just for being rude. I love that! I was very shy, but well-liked. So I began a journey to make myself good. I practiced and practiced to get better. If I just let this inner satisfaction lay around, I’d still do good, but I wanted to be the best I could be. I wanted in crowds to try to tolerate it. When angry, my answer was to withdraw, but not run away, just get into my room by myself. Still the hardest part was being teased, but I toughened up and began to not let it bother me so much anymore. It took me until age 19, to totally get control of this. But I’m there now. Anger and frustration became a miracle story of self-control. My relatives noticed and were so proud. My mom said I was the miracle story of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
What about the social problems of autism? I wasn’t fond of talking, so I mostly told my subject or barely answered theirs. I got to where I could answer others, but not all the skills of conversation at all. I went through a bad period of medication adjustment where I talked twenty-four-seven. I was called Random Man. After the medications were changed, I wasn’t afraid to talk any more. I wanted to learn proper social skills. Actually, it’s simple. Listen and talk about what they are talking about. Ask questions. Talk on the same subject. Use manners. I felt like Tarzan learning to talk like a human.
Nowadays, people don’t know I have any form of autism, bipolar, or OCD. They think I’m normal and I keep my diagnosis a secret. And I have lots of friends. They all say I am the nicest guy. I love it! Many people said I’d never be good. Vanguard, my mom, Fran Templeton and my stays in mental hospitals taught me a lot. But like training a racing horse, the horse should get the credit. I had to have self-discipline.
This is my success story. Pete.”
Author’s Note: Pete has been successfully employed part-time at a Head Start Program working with young children for almost ten years. He has attended continuing education classes at his local junior college and he lives in his own apartment and drives his own car. He receives limited assistance from government funding programs.

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