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18 Year Old With Autism Salutatorian in Smithfield, RI

Congrats grad Managing Editor's Note: Don't you love when the doctors, the "experts" who told a parent to get ready for an institution are proven DEAD WRONG?  Eric Duquette's Mom used education, behavioral therapy and a Mother's determination to get him this far. Congratulations to Eric and his family. Please comment at The Providence Journal.

Autistic student will be class salutatorian in Smithfield, RI

01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, June 15, 2010

By Gina Macris

Journal Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD — Eric Duquette didn’t utter a word until he was 5 years old, getting through his early years with a combination of picture cards and sign language.

Eric, now a softspoken young man of 18, can’t remember why he didn’t speak early on.

For him, the past doesn’t matter so much as the future.

Tuesday night, in a ceremony at Bryant University, he will graduate as salutatorian of Smithfield High School, with the second-highest grade point average in a class of 199.

In the fall, Eric will begin his freshman year at Rhode Island College, studying biology in a first step toward what he hopes will be a career as a pharmacist.

Eric’s mother, Judith, says she once thought paying for Eric’s college education would be the last thing she would have to worry about.

He was diagnosed with autism when he was just a toddler. Doctors told Judith and her husband, Dennis, that it was likely Eric would have to be institutionalized as an adult.

Instead, Eric quipped, he’s going to an institution of higher learning.

Judith Duquette says that early intervention — a combination of pre-school special education and home-based behavioral therapy — has made all the difference in Eric’s life, helping to unlock the doors to communication for a child with an inquisitive, analytical mind.

Eric has “never had any problems academically,” she said.

But he has struggled with high levels of anxiety and stress. Eric worries that a glance at a girl might be taken the wrong way, for example, or an accidental bump against another person might give lasting offense.

To negotiate these types of situations, as well as the social context of the classroom, Eric has had a paraprofessional accompany him throughout his four years at Smithfield High.

Eric said he must know in great detail how the teacher arrived at a particular answer to feel comfortable in class. But sometimes he needs to ask more questions than the teacher has time to answer.

So with the help of the aide, he has learned how to let the class move on, with the assurance that he can stay after school to get additional information.

In his senior year, Eric took a hefty load of challenging courses, including calculus, honors physics and a fifth year of Spanish.

“My mom taught me to work hard and never give up,” he said.

When young Eric was not in preschool, either at the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative or at the Metcalf school in town, his mother taught him language with the help of toy animals she set up on a little table in the family’s only bathroom, where there were no distractions.

“We made it our whole life,” she said.

Eric has beat the odds, both because of his innate ability and the support of the people around him, his mother said, including teachers, staff and students, both in the school and in the community.

He said he wants to help people through pharmaceuticals, the same way that his grandfather got relief before he died of cancer a few years ago.

Eric’s mother said parents of children diagnosed with autism should not blame themselves if their sons or daughters do not reach the same milestones.

“It’s not something they did,” she said.

But Judith Duquette, who now works at the Groden Center with young autistic children, says: “There are more Erics coming along,”

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mary ann lovelady

I am very pleased to hear that there is some success. My son Ryan unfortuately has not been so lucky, he has never made high school and I home schooled him which wasnt a greast success either. Ryan has been house bound for the past five years and no amount of encouragment gets him out. He has no life or future and no one can help me. I feel he has been let down badly by the system, it has all been too little too late, the window has passed for Ryan who is also autistic and now eighteen. It breaks my heart as a mother to see him so alone.


BEA -- if you love the happy ending leave it at that. why are you disturbed that he wants to be a pharmacist?????? please explain...........we are curious !!!!!!!!

Deb O.

I am happy for the Duquette family and especially Eric. I just wonder how they accomplished the miracle of have a full time para assigned to a high school student with no academic difficulties!


Two in a row!! There has got to be more out there! I'm so proud of "our" kids!


Karen, congrats to your family too! We'd love to hear more of your son's success.


Congratulations to Eric! My autistic son just graduated from high school last week, proving all the "experts" wrong. He was not salutatorian, but is a fine young man, an athlete and Eagle Scout, headed for college in the fall.


Congratulations Eric! What an inspiring story to help us all through our hurdles of life. The human spirit is an amazing thing!


Love the happy ending--but am a bit disturbed that he wants to be a pharmacist...


Eric and the Duquette family are an inspiration!!!

Congratulations, and thanks for giving us all a great story and especially hope.


Whatever it takes. :) Love those happy endings.


What a wonderful story, Eric sounds so much like my 7 year old and yet I find myself still too afraid to hope. I'm not going to give up trying though, hope that is.

Thanks Eric, you are an inspiration.

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