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Perseveration is the uncontrollable repetition of certain responses to stimuli both external and internal. Many people with brain injuries and developmental disorders exhibit perseveration. “Perseveration may also refer to the obsessive and highly selective interests of individuals on the autism spectrum” (Wikipedia).

When Mary was a young child, she repetitiously tore the pages of any book she could put her hands on. The ripping sound seemed to satisfy some need. We had to hide them for a while. We bought her board books and vinyl books, to help her enjoy books without the opportunity to destroy them. She also would repeat the same sentences verbatim regarding her cats or to dogs to anyone who would listen.

Perseveration in high functioning people on the autistic spectrum can also find expression in perseverance, a related concept. “Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/discouragement).

Mary  is perseverance personified. Her steady persistence in the face of obstacles and discouragement led to an Associates degree in accounting, and then a bachelor’s degree. She accomplished what other said was impossible.

She has severe learning disabilities, autism, and had a brain infarction at birth. Her speech impairment was in the severe category for many years; she had speech therapy well into high school. She learned to read in the eighth grade due to the persistent efforts of her wonderful teachers and her own efforts.  Among the first bookd she read independently was The Lord of the Rings. Before reading the trilogy, though, she listened to many books on tape through the Reading for the Blind program.

Her regular education teachers said it would be a waste of money and time for her to attend college. She went through another round of neuropsych testing at the age of 19. The neuropsychologist told us it would be impossible for her to succeed at college, and even if she succeeded with a few courses, she  would not be able to understand upper level courses.

Finding meaningful employment is very difficult for high functioning people on the autistic spectrum. Mary graduated from college in 2010, but has yet to find permanent employment. Still, she persists in her efforts. She volunteered at a homeless shelter for over a year using her accounting skills. This fall she had temporary full time work with them during holiday season (three months). She continues to work a few afternoons a week. She continues to persevere in her hunt for permanent employment. She has to find a job that she can get to by bus, because due to her physical limitations, the driver’s rehabilitation program has deemed her unable to drive.

She persevered and accomplished more than we could have imagined when she was placed in special education at five years of age. I was discouraged when I received the results of the neuropsychological evaluation when she was 19. She had worked so hard. But my other daughter said to me, “they can test reading and language, but they can’t test character.” Her perseveration had developed into perseverance; “especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”