Durham — When parents of other children with autism heard that Ann Palmer’s son, Eric, had entered college, she began getting phone calls and e-mails seeking advice.
“I realized then, and when researching, that there’s very little written out there that parents can go to,” Palmer said.
So, the Durham resident wrote a book describing what she learned as Eric graduated from Jordan High School and enrolled at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Eric 22, is now a senior at NCSU, where he majors in anthropology and plans to graduate this spring.
The book is “Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger
Syndrome: A Parent’s Guide to Student Success.” Asperger syndrome is similar to “high-functioning” autism like Eric’s.
Palmer has been signing copies at Durham and Chapel Hill bookstores and is next scheduled to do so Nov. 30 at Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Road, Raleigh.
About 1 in every 166 children is diagnosed somewhere on the spectrum of autism and related conditions, Palmer said. Twenty years ago, it was 1 in 5,000.
“I think there’s going be more and more interest in this topic,” she said.
For the family — Ann Palmer and her husband also have two other children — Eric’s educational path was a big unknown after he was diagnosed at age 3. His intelligence was normal, but he was withdrawn and upset by even slight changes of routine. When the family’s house was struck by lightning, Eric remained glued to a video, ignoring even the arrival of a fire truck and firefighters tromping past him.
The family took him to therapy sessions and special preschools. Ann and Eric also attended weekly sessions at UNC’s Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children), where Palmer now runs a program that pairs parents of autistic children with mentors.
The book also describes the family’s strategies for elementary school through high school. The former included transition from a self-contained autism class to a mainstream one, where an autism outreach teacher continued to monitor Eric’s progress.
By the time Eric was in high school, “he became better with organizational skills,” Palmer said. “Socially, he became a little more outgoing, better able to fit in socially.”
Eric took advantage of a few special accommodations, such as a time extension on the SAT. Autistic children “tend be perfectionists, so they spend a lot of time making sure that bubble is filled in just right,” Palmer said. But for the most part, he jumped through the same hoops as everyone else.
As a mother, Palmer had to adjust, too. After Eric had been at college for a while, he casually mentioned while recovering from what Ann Palmer had thought was a cold that it was pneumonia.
“And that goes on the list of things you tell your mother,” Palmer said her son learned — it just didn’t occur to him at the time.
Eric registered with a disability services office at NCSU, which sends a letter to his professors describing his learning style.
“It’s very important for parents and students to meet with people in the disability services office at every college they’re applying to and ask if they have experience in teaching students with autism, if they have training in it,” she said.