Here is John’s description of his life in his own words:
I was born in Montreal, Quebec. During my childhood I faced many obstacles and challenges: an initial diagnosis as mentally impaired, then later a relabelling as severely learning disabled. Social situations were very difficult for me; they felt like entering a mine field. Many times I would say the wrong thing, upset someone or misread their intentions.
Two of the constants in my life were parental support and tenacity on my part to succeed. Situations that I found difficult I was not allowed to avoid. My parents forced me to socialize and do things for myself. This enabled me to expand my comfort zone and to become more independent.
College was not a challenge academically, but socially. One day in graduate school a mentor of mine told me due to my obsessive behavior, difficulty socializing and a knack for misreading people I probably had Asperger’s Syndrome. The last thing I wanted to be likened to was Rain Man from the movies. For my whole life I had chased the elusive goal of normality. A few years after I had begun teaching I spoke about this with a mental health professional. After much time I was ready to accept the diagnosis.
My Calling: Helping Individuals with Autism
I decided to move away from teaching Varying Exceptionalities to devoting my energies to helping individuals with autism. My goal and desire was for them to have the same opportunities as everyone else and to be given the tools to succeed. Working with people on the ASD Spectrum is not a job, but my calling in life.
One day a prominent professor in the field told me that I should be proud of myself, because I had a professional job, a wife and a child. The comment was perplexing to me, since I felt this should be a choice and I did not want to be seen as an exception. For anyone that lives with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism they should have the same opportunities as I have had. It is a matter of gaining the tools and skills to get there.