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Last week, I featured Judy and son Eric Duquette. In the mid-'90s, a physician diagnosed then 3-year-old Eric with autism, which meant he had a wide range of developmental challenges including being nonverbal to having no interest in interacting with others.
Soon thereafter, Duquette began engaging Eric in purposeful interaction every waking hour. She tirelessly modified his inappropriate behaviors and taught communication skills. For years, she poured her life and love into her son. She homeschooled and had public school help. The results?
“Eric is 19 now and started at Rhode Island College in August majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish and he has plans to become a pharmacist,” said Judy Duquette in a telephone interview. Eric graduated second in his 2010 class at Smithfield (RI) High School and tested 93rd in the nation on the Spanish V exam.
Here's how it happened: “The prognosis for me (in the mid-'90s) was to cut my losses, end up divorced, and have Eric end up in a group home,” Duquette said. “But I had one life to live and walking away from him was never something entering my mind. I figured if I wasn't going to (help Eric), who was?” At first, she felt the most pressure getting him to speak, which he would begin doing at age 5.
Over time, she ended up with more help than imagined. Her husband became Eric's best friend. In ninth grade, the popular captain of the hockey team befriended Eric and “put his stamp of approval” on him, said Duquette, which led to acceptance from other students. Eric received a school aide beginning in middle school and social skills training from the Groden Center. There were many others involved, including his Spanish teacher.
“I credit the high school a lot,” she said. “They always made me feel part of a team. These people work hard and there are no easy solutions.” But above all, Duquette credited most her son, who she described as a “very nice person,” “appreciative,” and “flexible.”
Of course, each person with autism is unique and responds differently to various interventions. Eric's successes couldn't be replicated with every person with autism.
That said, Eric, as class salutatorian, said this during his graduation day speech: "...[D]o not allow yourself or others to be defined by your limitations, but rather abilities. Never underestimate yourself.”
Blue Valley Sod and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.