WASHINGTON – Ron Fournier first realized his son, Tyler, had Asperger’s syndrome a couple of years ago.
While watching several back episodes of the NBC drama, “Parenthood,” Fournier saw a lot of his son’s characteristics in Max Braverman, a character on the show who has a severe case of Asperger’s.
“I was up until about 3 a.m. with tears rolling down my face realizing that this was scary – that he might have autism – but at least now we might know what he’s dealing with,” Fournier told WTOP Monday.
Fournier noticed specific similarities between Tyler and Max, such as a high level of intelligence, difficulty socializing, avoidance of eye contact and fixations on certain habits or interests.
“Max is fixated on bugs. For my son, at the time, it was Legos and video games,” says Fournier, the editor-in-chief of the National Journal who wrote about his personal experience with understanding Asperger’s in an essay.
Unlike most parents of children with Asperger’s, Fournier received guidance on his son’s diagnosis from two U.S. presidents.
Fournier’s wife sent him and Tyler (a U.S. history fan) on a road trip to visit presidential libraries and historical sites. The trip served as an opportunity for the boys to bond and for Tyler to practice his social skills.
His wife also suggested that Fournier, a former White House correspondent, arrange meetings for Tyler with former President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton while visiting their libraries. Both presidents said yes.
“When I saw how President Bush and President Clinton rolled with Tyler and connected with Tyler, I realized that I need to relax a little bit,” says Fournier, who in the past spent a lot of time worrying about how others perceived his son.
For those parents of children with Asperger’s who can’t swing a personal meeting with presidents, Fournier has some advice.
“Number one, don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Let your boy or girl be who they are going to be,” says Fournier. “Number two, spend some time with them; strike that work-life balance.”
Fournier received his third piece of advice directly from President Bush, who told him to “love that boy.”
“Love them for what they are,” says Fournier. “Don’t have them try to meet some idealized version of what you think a son or daughter should be.”