HEALTH: Living with autism: Peter Gravdahl prepares to live independently by learning academic and life skills
NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- Northwood High School junior Peter Gravdahl has high hopes for his future and he isn't going to let autism stand in his way. "I'd like to go to a secondary school. I'd like to work at Best Buy and work with computers," Peter said.
NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- Northwood High School junior Peter Gravdahl has high hopes for his future and he isn't going to let autism stand in his way.
"I'd like to go to a secondary school. I'd like to work at Best Buy and work with computers," Peter said. "I'm good at that." He also is adept at creative writing and is a good piano and clarinet player, he said.
But there also are challenges that Peter, 17, is working to overcome and he is frank about those, too.
"Right now I'm learning conversation skills, whether people are interested or not," he said. Peter, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3½, has trouble "reading" people's faces so it's difficult for him to know how they are responding to his conversation.
Through therapy and special education classes, Peter also is learning other social interaction skills.
"They help him figure out how to react in certain situations," said Mary Gravdahl, Peter's mother. For example, Peter has learned that it's better to remove himself from conflicts with classmates, than to stay and argue with them, she said.
"He's gotten really good at ignoring the behavior and walking away from it," she said. "The frustrations, he's learned to channel them by talking to psychology people."
She and Charles Gravdahl, Peter's father, also are forthright with their son about what is appropriate behavior and what is not. For example, when Peter's conversation begins to get off-topic or becomes run-on, one of them will tell him that.
Mary and Charles have strived over the years to expose Peter to a variety of social situations so he will be prepared for life after graduation next year.
"He has to be able to live in the real world," Mary said. Another part of her son's preparation for living independently is learning academic and life skills. He takes general science, family and consumer science, math, English and technology classes at Northwood High School.
Peter also is learning public speaking skills by doing power point presentations on his special education IEP, or Independent Education Program, to students, parents and teachers across North Dakota. Gravdahl spoke in Grand Forks this past February at the North Dakota Council for Exceptional Children Conference and earlier this month he gave a presentation at the Interagency Secondary Transition Conference in Bismarck.
"I talk about what's in the IEP goals and what I want to do after school," Peter said. "I talk about what I'm good at."
The public speaking experience has been beneficial to Peter, Mary said.
"It's given him a lot more confidence." She also believes that the presentations Peter gives now could have a positive impact on his future.
"Every time he does something like this, it maybe opens the door to something else," she said.
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