Learn to turn adversity into confidence, resilience and compassion
I was born in the state of infancy to a working-class couple who were young and inexperienced. By the end of their 20s, they had four children, the third of which was me.
I was a very anxious baby such that I screamed and cried in my mother’s absence. I was so inconsolable I had to accompany them on trips and date nights.
As a child, I remember being quiet and lonely. I filled the void with television and my imagination.
School was very difficult for me. I wish I and socially awkward which made me a target for bullies. Teachers were very impatient with me as I struggle with reading, math and instructions from one moment to the next. I was accused of being lazy by some and mentally retarded by another.
If they only knew how badly I want to succeed and was truly doing the best I could with what I had.
The bullying continued into junior high school where it intensified. It was in eighth grade that I finally reached my limit. That’s when one bully was on the receiving end of a few well executed martial arts techniques I learned from my father. The word got out pretty fast that I wasn’t to be underestimated. Some of the verbal teasing continued but now any would-be bullies knew better.
It was in high school that I began to spread my wings as I discovered my sense of humor and endeared myself to many of my peers. Overall, I consider high school something I survived. I had many girlfriends. Few of those relationships lasted very long as my social awkwardness left me inept as to how to carry a dating relationship.
As high school graduation approached something happened no one could have predicted. A recurring pain in my abdomen was diagnosed as an aggressive form of testicular cancer. I received surgery and spent the summer after graduation and chemotherapy.
During that time my peers moved on with their lives and I was virtually alone. When I learned I was cured of my cancer and move forward with my life. I was angry, bitter and confused. I was also determined. Determined to create a better life than the one I had thus far.
I chose to seek a degree in social work. In my late 20s I married my first wife after a whirlwind romance. Our 12 years together produced three beautiful boys. All of whom have been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome.
It was through them that I received answers as to why my childhood had been so difficult. I saw testing for myself and received diagnoses of ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and dyslexia. We also discovered that my father has Asperger’s and my mother has ADHD. This revelation about our family led to several years of heartfelt conversations and many requests for forgiveness.
I responded to my son’s diagnoses by dedicating my life to preparing them for a world or it would otherwise eat them alive.
But before I could teach them anything. I needed to learn these skills myself. The more I learned about effective communication, healthy relationships and navigating life, the better. When I became proficient in skill I would teach my boys.
It was when I began attending a parent support group for Asperger’s that things really changed. I didn’t disclose it first that I have my own diagnoses of Asperger’s. I was more inclined to sit quietly and listen in the hope of learning things that could help my boys.
I’m fortunate, in that I have a remarkable ability to explain my experiences in a way that drops the curtain between a parent and a child with Asperger’s or ADHD.
It wasn’t long before I realized these parents were giving each other well intended but incorrect information about relating to and disciplining their children with Asperger’s. It wasn’t in hearing these statements that I decided to speak up.
After a month or so, meetings would begin with a parent stating, “I have a question for Brian.”
When the parents learned I was a social worker they assumed I worked with ASD children for a living (I didn’t). They begged me to begin working with their children because I gave them insights and strategies they hadn’t received from years of working with other professionals. Strategies that WORKED.
After about a year of listening to their insistence, I opened a small office and word spread so fast, I was able to quit my day job four months later. I haven’t looked back since.
All these years later, I’ve written 5 books and present internationally to parents and educators who want to learn my unique and transformational perspective on living with Asperger’s and ADHD.
I’d like to tell you it’s been smooth sailing these past few years. But eight years ago my first wife decide how far to leave me and our sons, to be with another man. I was devastated and humiliated. I was suddenly a single father with three sons to raise. They had endless questions about why their mother left. Questions I couldn't answer.
It took time but I was able to get back on my feet, to learn to trust again and learn to love again.
I wish I could say it’s been smooth sailing since then. But over the past 6 years or so, I began experiencing a decline in my health. Many of my joints were becoming weaker and I was becoming exhausted by simple activities like walking around the block.
My joints were also in constant pain and my muscles as well. It was four years ago that this decline was identified as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It's genetic, there is no cure and it will only get worse. What makes it worse is the fact I passed it on to my two youngest sons.
But there were a multitude of neurological symptoms that continued and which were not explained by the hEDS diagnosis. Symptoms that worsened over the next few years and made it necessary to begin using a wheelchair whenever venturing outside the house and needing ever increasing assistance while in the house.
Fortunately, a short hospital stay in 2017 led to the discovery of multiple lesions in my brain which was subsequently diagnosed as Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. A diagnosis that explains all of my neurological symptoms. Though there's no cure for MS, there are treatments which will hopefully improve my quality of life.
So what have I done in response to a life that seems bent on giving me one more thing just as I've come to terms with the previous one? I grieve, I educate myself, I commit to learning what I can from the experience.
Then I teach what I've learned to others. The meaning I have found in this life is:
The importance of taking responsibility for how you approach your experiences
The need for developing the resourcefulness you need to grow stronger from the experience
The healing power of reciprocal relationships for the mental and emotional support you need during these difficult times.
The indomitable strength of resilience that grows so nothing can stop you from living the fullest life possible.
This life constantly shows me what it means to be human.