Mothers and Belief

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By Dan Coulter

A while back, I went through a box of papers I got from my mom when she moved into a retirement home. It was a Dan shrine. I found every issue of the high school newspaper I edited. And mementos of every accomplishment or award she could get her hands on and save. Right down to a red ribbon I got for coming in second place in a sack race at church camp when I was in grade school.

I called Mom and got her standard greeting, “How are you, honey? Is everyone feeling okay?” I think every mom worries about her kids. But if my mom ever had a doubt about my worth or my ability to succeed in the world, I never saw it.

There were plenty of times I doubted myself while I was growing up, but seeing my mom’s confidence in me was a great antidote.

And if she had doubts, but mastered them so I couldn’t see them, I think I appreciate that even more. Many moms of children with Asperger Syndrome and autism have doubts thrust upon them.

Sometimes by supposed experts who tell them what not to expect of their sons and daughters. I thought of this when I heard an interview with Quinn Bradlee, a young man who has Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome. VCFS is not autism, but like autism, it can generate a range of physical problems and learning disabilities. Quinn’s mother, writer Sally Quinn, says she was told by a psychologist when her son was young that he would never lead a normal life and should be institutionalized. She and her husband, former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, refused. Quinn says his mother was his leading advocate and calls her a lioness for the way she always believed in him and fought for him. That lioness analogy made an impression on me.

While he’s had a rough road, Quinn Bradlee is now an adult. His accomplishments include writing a memoir, A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures, participating in a documentary about VCFS, and starting a website for people with learning disabilities: He’s made appearances on a number of national news programs, sometimes with his parents.

In an interview on PBS' News Hour, Sally Quinn explained her approach, “I think the most important thing is to love your child…and make them believe in themselves…there’s a thing that the shrinks call 'mirroring,' when somebody looks in your eyes and they see themselves through your eyes. And I wanted always when Quinn looked in my eyes that he saw nothing but love, and appreciation and belief in him.”

In our work with families dealing with Asperger Syndrome and autism, my wife and I see more and more parents taking this positive approach. Refusing to accept that their children can’t do something without giving them an opportunity to try. Realizing that a child who believes he can accomplish a task is more likely to keep trying until he finds a way.

Society’s view is changing, too, as children who once would have been written off are blowing past expectations. This is due, in no small part, to mothers.

Society is relearning an age-old lesson.

You don’t mess with a lioness.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVDs "The Puberty Video for Boys with Asperger Syndrome" and "Managing Puberty, Social Challenges, and (Almost) Everything: A Video Guide for Girls." You can find more articles and information on his website:

Copyright 2014 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by Permission.

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