April is National Autism Awareness Month in the United States. Autism appears in the first three years of life and affects the brains normal development of social and communication skills.
Today, the day I’m writing this piece, the Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 88 children are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum with 1 in 54 boys affected. Is it just that more children are affected with the disorder? Or more cases being detected? Good question, but not one I’m going to attempt to answer here.
Here, I would like to thank the many people who have supported our son, a wonderful, talented and humorous young man, My son. You see, My son is a graduating senior in high school this year. He’s passed his standardized testing requirements, kept his grades up, and is going to walk with his classmates to receive his diploma. Sounds pretty typical, right? Well no, not this time, not at all.
He was a beautiful, healthy baby born at the local hospital. We were the proud new parents of this clever, happy boy. Developing well, meeting and beating all his milestones on time, we became very concerned when he started turning so ill, allergic, and quiet around 18 months of age. In those days, this was a very uncommon situation and a deep sense of confusion became our new norm. Were we scared? Stunned stupid.
Subsequent to his diagnoses of moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder at 3 1/2 years of age, we decided as his parents that this was not about us. It is about him. To regain his health, his development, and his life – and just how he was going to make it a good one. Were we crazy? We’ve been told so.
The starting point was his first official physical therapy appointment. Stripped down to his diaper, facing a sensory obstacle course, he mustered all his remaining courage. While making it to step two of ten he passed out, fast asleep. The shock to his system overwhelmed him so much he just shut down. This far behind the rest? Tragically so.
Our son started his school career at 3 1/2 years of age. His allergies raged for much of his young life. He didn’t have much to say until he was about 6 years old. He had a personal speech therapist for 11 years and a string of school teachers, aides, and assistance provided to him almost daily. Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Food Aversion Therapy, Behavior Therapy (just once, he was sick not defiant), and an assortment of medical treatments were embedded within the moments that fill his childhood memories. Were we sad? Seriously? Don’t go there.
My husband, a teacher himself, and I were invited to an Autism workshop hosted by the school psychologist at our sons high school. It was a room full of educators, counselors, administrators and others interested enough in the subject to attend. We were wide open for Q & A from this crowd. What is it like to have a child on the spectrum? Wow, how to explain?
Does he know? Yes, he does and he gets self conscious in some situations because of it. How about his brother, what is their relationship like? Solid, his younger brother is an outstanding man of his own – they wrestle, bicker and tease somewhat like other siblings do. A good day memory? The day he lied about eating the Fritos. That brand of higher cognitive function was welcome in our home. Did we think that teachers should point out the autistic students and discuss behaviors with the other kids in class for understanding?, What do you think causes Autism?, and many other valid questions – to understand an autistic student better.
Mostly, we credit our son with his amazing life story and turn around. He is the master of his own soul and the driver of his own development. He participated in therapies and took the medicines, suffering through it all. But not by himself. Never alone…he had us, his family.
The perfect opportunity was presented that afternoon. An opportunity to personally THANK those people involved with his education. The outstanding, dedicated staff that has helped shape a young man who had so far to go to get here, his pending graduation. We thank all the special people who got to know him, share his offbeat humor, develop his passion in the Arts, and calm him down when he lost his temper. We truly appreciate you all – right now and into the big, bright future of our boy.
When our son was diagnosed some 15 years ago, it was a 1 in 10,000 chance to win the Autism lottery. Today, the CDC announced the odds are now 1 in 88. One child is diagnosed on the spectrum every 20 seconds. This April, let’s all hope, think and pray that someday, we will not be living in the age of Autism.
~ Wendy Frye
“And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky, A human being that was given to fly…”
~ Edward Vedder, Pearl Jam