GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (April 17, 2013) -- When Randy Calderon's mother, Erica, learned her son had been diagnosed with autism, she envisioned a bleak future. She knew little about autism, other than stereotypes generated in Hollywood.

"I thought he would be like 'Rain Man,'" Calderon explained. She imagined Randy would live with her forever, wear diapers, and never get to experience any of the great things about life, like falling in love.

The Calderons' experience with autism began after Randy turned 18 months old. Until then, he was developing right on target with peers his age. Shortly after that milestone, however, Randy's development not only stopped, but began to decline. By the time he was two years old, she knew there was something seriously wrong.

After a number of physical screenings and evaluations, Educational and Developmental Intervention Services, or EDIS, became involved with Randy and started the process of evaluating him and providing therapeutic services in the home. Erica describes this time as extraordinarily difficult for Randy, herself, and the rest of the family.

"Socially, it was a nightmare," she said.

The family always had to travel in two vehicles, because at any moment, Randy could become upset and start having tantrums that would require his mother or father to take him home immediately.

Erica's other children "hated him" and asked, "can we get rid of him?" Hopelessness began to overtake the family, and they wished for a diagnosis that would provide them understanding and direction in obtaining help.

Finally, on July 6, 2006, the same day that Erica found out her mother was terminally ill, a psychologist delivered the news that she was most afraid of -- Randy had severe autism.

The family traveled to the U.S. to be with her mother, take time to grieve, and finally began to digest the diagnosis that Randy had received. When Erica returned home, she knew it was time to start looking to the future.

If you speak to Erica, you will undoubtedly find that you are talking to a mother who is dedicated to finding the best for her children. When it came to finding help for Randy after he received his diagnosis, she certainly demonstrated this attribute.

It can be confusing navigating through all of the rights and entitlements for which we or our loved ones are entitled, but Erica made it her personal mission to get Randy into the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Preschool Services for Children with Disabilities, or PSCD.

"If he didn't get the help he needed, it would have been terrible and too late. I was not going to let that happen," she said.

Erica recognized the importance of ensuring he had a head start and received intervention services as early as possible.

When Randy began PSCD, the development began to happen almost overnight. The school used picture stories for everything and started to teach Randy sign language. This allowed Randy to finally find ways to communicate with the outside world.

He "took off" once he began receiving these services. Erica recalls that he was potty trained in two days.

Now, five years later, Randy is what Erica describes as "pretty normal." He has some diet issues and only likes to eat certain foods, but is above average academically.

He has transitional issues, and is always watching the clock, obsessed with time. However, those around him -- his classmates, teachers, family, friends -- have all come to see these as simple nuances of who Randy is.

Today, if you ask Erica Calderon what the future looks like for Randy, she'll proudly tell you, "He's going to college."

Editor's Note: Kari Sharpe is the chief of Army Community Service in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.