Henry: One Young Man's Autism Journey.

{Beautiful Images shown here were taken by Coleen Hodges Photography, Lovely words written by Melissa Lane Isakkson}

Henry is a 19 year old young man of many talents, one of which includes the ability to recall dates and events like no one else I've ever met. He is also a self-taught pianist and musical artist, an accomplished mountaineer, summiting more than 33 summits in the southwestern United States, and a young man who does is not define himself by the Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis that was given to him at the age of 11.

 

Henry struggled through his early school years.  He felt school was boring and he was not being challenged so he began creating social experiments by trying to gain the attention of his peers.  Henry began saying outlandish things during class to get a laugh and when that become too easy he eventually began doing outlandish things to gain his peers’ attention.  This eventually got him into trouble with his teachers and although he feels he “was a class clown,” administrators and his parents felt he was being bullied and that students were purposely asking him to do things to laugh at him, not with him.  This led Henry to be placed in a private school for students with high functioning autism during the middle of his 7th grade school year.  

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Henry did well in the private setting for the remainder of his 7th grade school year, but when the notoriety wore off he began resorting to his mischievous antics to keep himself entertained.  He befriended some like-minded peers and they began using their time during the school day to entertain their imaginations which ultimately led him back into trouble with administration.  Henry struggled to identify when he would take jokes too far.  By the fall semester of sophomore year, he was asked not to return to the private school.  

Henry was then left to return to public school.  He says that he had to “relearn how to talk to people again”  after being in a school of solely individuals on the spectrum.  Henry states “There is one effective way to teach kids how to do things and that’s by doing it.  I feel like that’s how I was done wrong.  I was told how to act and what to think and wasn’t able to transfer these skills until I went out and had to communicate with people in real social settings”  

When Henry went back to public school, he was adamant with his mom that he did not want to have an IEP or any services.  He just wanted to be a normal kid.  Henry made it through his sophomore year without accommodations, but struggled greatly to pass Math.  Henry also floundered on the social front, struggling to break into a crowd with his peers. That summer, Henry fell into a deep depression and he had thoughts of suicide, “but I decided instead that I would wait to kill myself when I was 21 and until then I would try every drug I could get my hands on.”  Once Henry decided this was going to be his next challenge, making friends with drug dealers became quite easy.  Henry finally felt that he had a group of people that he could connect with.  He started by smoking marijuana and shortly after, had his first experience with LSD.  Within a year’s time, Henry experimented with cocaine, over-the-counter cough medicine, psychedelic mushrooms, methamphetamines, xanax, and even crack until his breaking point when he  overdosed on heroin twice in the span of three weeks, one of which his mother had to dial 911 and paramedics had to inject him with Narcan to revive him.  “I think that it was a cool period of time in my life because I have cool stories to account for that crazy period in my life. “ After the final overdose,  a then 17 year old Henry was checked into outpatient drug rehabilitation and never looked back.  He has been drug free since May 17, 2014.  

When asked if he ever thinks about what it must have been like for his mother to watch her only child struggle like he had over the years, and he simply stated “no.”  He continues to have a relationship with his mother, but has not spoken to his father in years. His father was never able to understand or accept Henry.  “He was never really able to understand anyone's perspective beyond his own.  On March 24th, 2015, exactly 50 days before my 18th birthday, my Dad left a letter on the desk in my bedroom that read “You have 50 days to vacate this residency. I hope you are looking for other places to live.” On July 1st, 2015 Henry legally had his last name changed from from his father’s given name to Bromin, though he claims his decision to do such was solely due to his dislike of his birthname.

Today Henry is living in an apartment on his own, he has successfully completed 18 credits towards his associates degree, and works full time. In his free time he climbs mountains, makes music and keeps busy by co-writing a comedic television sitcom titled “Brothers-in-Law.”

As we were wrapping up our interview, I asked Henry if he could give a piece of advice to parents of kids on the spectrum, what would it be.  “Instead of just trying to tell them how things are going to be, you gotta let them have their own experiences and draw their own conclusions.”   When discussing the journey he has been on and how he is balancing a life as an independent adult and all of the chores and responsibilities that go along with it, he said something I found to be rather profound, “On May 2nd 2016, I learned a valuable lesson, life becomes exciting when you turn chores into adventures.”

 

 

 

Authors Afterthoughts

I have known Henry since 2009 when I first met him as his middle school English teacher at a private school for kiddos on the spectrum.  I was able to build a relationship with him as his teacher and through the years his mother would reach out to me to talk to him when he was faced with hard times.  She felt that he would not listed to her or his father, but for some reason would listen to me.  I felt a strong obligation to help this young man in any way I could.  Over the years my relationship with Henry turned more into a unofficial mentoring of sorts that continues to this day.

If I were to be writing Henry’s story it would be drastically different than the story you just read.  I remember working with a kid who was text book Aspie, brilliant and witty as could be, an observer of people who was always looking to get a reaction. In later years, after I was no longer Henry’s teacher,  I remember having to write a letter to the school board to prevent Henry from being kicked out of public school during his high school years because when he started on his drug venture he bought a bag of flour from a kid on campus who was trying to pass it off a cocaine.  I remember getting the phone call from his heartbroken mother, as sweet, caring, nurturing former Kindergarten teacher who gave up her career to dedicate herself to her son,  when he overdosed for the second time and she was beside herself with what to do next.  I was there to take him out to a handful of dinners and to talk with him about his potential and what his life could look like if he could only pull through this. I had forgotten until he recently reminded me that I wrote him a structured list of 5 things he needed to do to get his life back on track.  Even though today he is doing well he asked me “Could you make me another one of those lists again?  I did every one of those things you wrote the first time and it worked. I am always trying to better myself,” After he began to turn things around, I was there to take him to a jazz concert when he needed to write a review for a college class which led us to a music and arts festival downtown Phoenix and gave him a glimpse of a world with other people that have similar interests as himself.

It was hard to write this spectrum spotlight as I feel my perspectives of Henry’s journey are very much different than his.  He is very factual and methodic when recalling the past events of his life, and for me when recalling these events I am filled with intense emotion.  I see his journey of intense struggle, and he sees it as simply the way it was.  But I had to remind myself that the Spectrum Spotlight was a place for young adults and adults to share their side of the story.  Perception is an interesting thing, because the thing about it is, that your perception is your reality.  Thank you Henry for sharing your beautiful reality with our tribe.

 

Spectrum Inspired.