Mom discusses raising three children with autism

January 4, 2012 4:52:30 PM PST
A woman who says surviving war prepared her for surviving autism is sharing what she's learned with others. She has three children with autism, but while raising them, she got engineering and pharmacy degrees!

Kim Yen Nguyen remembers her childhood escape from Vietnam -- passing bodies and surviving in a small, leaky boat. And when she arrived in America, she thought most of life's heartaches were behind her. But today, Nguyen lives with a different heartache as the mother of three autistic children.

Nam, her first child has severe autism, often banging his head on the floor.

"He would scare other people away by rocking and banging and crying," Nguyen said.

When Nguyen and her husband had Lan, their second child, they felt relief.

"My second child was very quick. She walked, she talked and everything was so perfect, and so I thought, gee she's gonna be OK," she said.

She got pregnant a third time, and that's when her second child began to show mild autistic symptoms. Mai, her youngest, was also born autistic. Nguyen was devastated.

"It can't be, it can't be that I have more than two," she said.

Now with three autistic children, her marriage ended and Nguyen was left to raise them alone. But she believes her early hardships made her a better parent.

"The experience of the war kind of helped strengthen my resolve later on," Nguyen said.

Hoping to help other parents, Nguyen wrote a book called "Surviving War, Surviving Autism."

"Having three autistic children doesn't mean it's the end," Nguyen said.

Her son, now 23, still does not speak. Her youngest, Mai, is a special education student in high school. And after years of therapy, Lan, her middle child is a sophomore at Berkeley and she hopes to be a neurologist.

Nguyen's advices parents to watch for symptoms, and act quickly.

Anyone interested in reading Surviving War, Surviving Autism: A Mother's Life Story can purchase the book at and and also on Nguyen's website