Nils Skudra: how one autistic man overcame dire predictions

Nils Skudra

“I wish people would understand that Asperger’s/Autism does not inhibit individuals from achieving their intellectual and professional potential. Autism presents significant social challenges but can also provide some key advantages such as the ability to process information more quickly, a greater attention to detail, a brilliant specialization in a particular subject, and the drive to work twice as hard as the average student,” Nils Skudra

By Ron Sandison

As a child Nils Skudra was frightened by unexpected sounds. When in the car, his mom learned to avoid potholes in the road to keep Nils’ anxiety low. When he was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age ten, doctors warned his mom, “Your son might need to be institutionalized.” As a result of the doctor’s grim outlook for Nils’ future, his mom did not disclose Nil’s diagnosis to him. Nils accidentally found out from a counselor in high school during a therapy session. Nils’ mom was upset that the counselor had revealed the diagnosis without first talking to her. Only then did she explain to Nils his diagnosis and the meaning of Asperger’s. Nils was determined to prove the experts wrong by working twice as hard.

Nils 2

“Some of my greatest challenges while growing up included the struggle to grasp basic social cues, engage in social interactions with my peers, and demonstrate the full degree of my intellectual potential. In addition to bullying, I also faced an underestimation by professionals of my intellectual abilities,” Nils shares.

Throughout grade school Nils was bullied mercilessly by his peers due to his lack of social skills. He encourages students who are bullied, “Report bullying behavior to teachers or other staff immediately. I feel that it’s better to walk away from the bully than to offer physical resistance since there is the chance that the confrontation can escalate.”

Learning social skills can also help limit bullying. Nils shares, “I advise students with autism who desire to learn social skills to become involved in group activities since they are filled with other individuals who face similar challenges. These groups can help build self-confidence and empower students to make friends.”

Nils’ keys to success included specialized assistance from teachers; IEP’s; social skills groups; regular psychotherapy sessions; physical, occupational and speech therapy; and academic accommodations. These were critical in empowering Nils to overcome his social and academic obstacles since they gave him confidence in his ability to engage in social interactions with peers.

Through specialized help from his teachers and therapy, Nils was able to achieve substantial academic success. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with straight A’s as a double major. He currently is in his second year of graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) pursuing an MA in American History. Nils is actively involved in the autism community, serving as the president of Spectrum at UNCG, a group that he founded for students on the spectrum.

He has been featured in Spectrum News and speaks to college students sharing his story. In March 2017, Nils recently spoke at the North Carolina Self-Advocates Conference. He hopes to make the Spectrum group a forum for spreading autism awareness, creating community for autistic students and helping them develop greater self-confidence in their abilities for self-advocacy.

College has been a rewarding experience for Nils, “I have enjoyed learning new information, making new friends and connections, and the numerous opportunities for social engagement and the creation of new student organizations. Some other things I love about college is the opportunity to attend theater events, concerts, dances and meeting people from different backgrounds.”

After Nils graduates with his MA degree, he hopes to find a job teaching History at the university level, with a focus in the Civil War or as a research historian, archivist, or curator at a museum or historic site.

Nils Skudra

For Nils to reach his goals he needs your help.

Nils shares, “When I first came to Greensboro, the Department of Rehabilitation in Berkeley, of which I was a client, promised to pay for both academic years of graduate school. However, they reneged on their promise since I no longer lived in California. While I finished my summer school class in Civil War/Reconstruction history with straight A’s, I was still left with a balance of approximately $1,200.00. I contacted various autism organizations for assistance with paying off my summer tuition, while they have expressed sympathy they have told me that they can’t provide financial assistance. I am working a part-time job as a docent at Preservation Greensboro, but it is on an as-needed basis, only pays $9 an hour, and in the last three weeks I have not been given any work. My mother is a disabled single parent with health issues. While I am still searching for other employment, it is critical that I secure sufficient funding for paying off the remaining summer tuition. I am afraid that failure to do so would have a negative impact on my continuing graduate studies at UNCG. I am capped out on student loans. I would greatly appreciate any financial help you can provide.”

Here is a link to Nils YouCaring campaign.

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Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American and board member for The Art of Autism. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

Ron has published articles in Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Autism File Magazine, the Art of Autism, Autism Parenting Magazine, Not Alone, the Mighty, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, and many more. He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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