Commentary

April 5, 2013

Parent of autistic child asks ‘why not?’

Tags:
Jessica Turner
Deputy Director, 99ABW Public Affairs
awareness
April is National Autism Awareness month

April is National Autism Awareness month

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — I was truly speechless the moment after his delivery. It was within those first 60 seconds when he was placed on my chest that my world completely changed.

Children define the phrase “life altering.” They bring love, panic, laughter, tears, distraction, frustration and every stray animal in the neighborhood, while we pray they teach us the patience to remain calm when they clog the toilet with an entire roll of paper or their sibling’s favorite toy.

When my second boy was born within three years, I prepared for the transition from a nursery to kiddy boot camp. Raised as an only child, I had no idea of the parental ride awaiting.

Although I was overwhelmed as a new mother, the boys seemed to develop on schedule – playing, eating, smiling and depriving me of sleep. Moments of personal peace now only took place during four-minute showers and the quiet ride to the day care center to pick them up at the end of the day.

Almost two years into what had seemed like a normal parenting experience, things began to drastically change. I started to notice my oldest son react differently to people and noises, throw tantrums and lose what small conversation he had begun. I’d hoped it was just the traits of terrible-twos beginning a few months early. But as time progressed, his physical behavior and emotional stability digressed.

For a year he would projectile vomit several times a week; throw himself on the ground in a violent tantrum without reason; avoided speaking, eye contact or affection; and played alone if he, in fact, played at all. Only the truly obvious signs bothered me, but doctors explained away the vomiting as gastrointestinal dysfunction and said it would pass. When he was around 4 years old it finally passed, but soon his often violent reactions and behavior kept him out of day cares and created a tremendous concern in our family. I began to lose faith.

It wasn’t until he was 4, when a blessing, who was his pre-school teacher, suggested I have him tested for autism. I instantly thought, ‘no way is my son like Rainman!’ After being on a six-month waiting list to consult with an autism specialist, four three-hour testing sessions and numerous questionnaires and counseling sessions, my son’s behavior now had a name – Asperger’s syndrome, which is part of the autism spectrum disorders.

The clinical definition is “a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others.” But what made more sense to me were the symptoms – mild digestive issues; few facial expressions; lack of eye contact; lack of empathy and sensitivity to others’ feelings; difficulty or inability to “read” other people or understand humor; poor coordination; and intense obsessions with specific subjects, like baseball statistics or U.S. presidents. No, my son is not a strange oddity who doesn’t know how to laugh and dance, or likes to memorize the dictionary (although he reads it for fun), but simply a kid whose brain coordinates information unlike most.

After my emotions settled, my quest began. How do I “fix it?” I wanted my son to just “get better,” like getting over a skinned knee or the common cold. I wanted him to play with his brother and other kids, feel comfortable enough to hug me again, tell me what he was feeling or thinking and come with us on family outings and not feel threatened or nervous. I simply kept thinking, “why us?”

After many nights of research, “liking” every autism awareness page on Facebook and developing an addiction to Google searches, I discovered many famous and intelligent people were thought to have or had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. The list includes President Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates. Rest assured this gave me no comfort or did it silence my frustrations; however, it provided me some faith that we may not cure this, but we can work with it.

He is currently 10 years old and although he obsesses about being 18 and joining the Marines, he also finds interest in things that never cease to amuse me. I often share our personal journeys on my Facebook page, like the day I came home from work to find him in nothing but jeans and Chuck Taylors, with marker drawings covering him from his face to belly button. I could not help but laugh when he said he was the rapper Lil’ Wayne and asked when he could get platinum teeth. Or the day he walked out in full a military uniform and said he was ready for war. Regardless of his ever changing obsessions, his memory stays on track.

Listening to the radio, he can easily tell you almost every current artist in the industry, to include what day they were born. He can also tell you many historical facts, such as the names and terms of each President, every war in history and truly enjoys old black and white films. Also very common to Asperger’s is asking repetitive questions when he already knows the answer, and, because of a common sensory issue in autistic people, he is only comfortable in wearing certain clothing and having his hair cut a certain way. I’m fairly sure he’ll try to use that excuse as a teenager too!

With time, some therapy and medication to help him cope, he is able to hug again, tell me what’s on his mind and find some peace when traveling and tolerates being in smaller crowds. Although I still answer repetitive questions from him and remind him when we’re in public that he’s not on stage at a rap concert or in the middle of a battle field, my faith is finally restored.

I no longer ask ‘why us?’ but instead ‘why not?’ Just like any other child, he still dreams of the future. Currently it’s a tossup between joining the military, becoming a brain surgeon or a famous rap star – although I’m thinking why not president of the United States. Anything he desires will be fine with me, as I will continue to not treat him any differently, or ever hold back the endless opportunities of my gifted child.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
U.S. Air Force photo by Henry Hancock

Weapons school grad challenges Airmen as new AU commander

U.S. Air Force photo by Henry Hancock Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, Air University commander and 1994 outstanding graduate from Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., addresses Airmen Nov. 12 at Maxwell-Gunter Air Forc...
 
 

AF closes FY14 force management programs

WASHINGTON — Airmen who met the service’s reduction in force board were notified of the board’s results Nov. 19, bringing the fiscal 2014 force management programs to an end. The RIF board selected 354 captains and majors across the Air Force for non-retention, half of the number the service previously projected it would separate. Line...
 
 
Courtesy graphic

Blowing away ashes

Courtesy graphic Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S., yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. However, more than half of these smokers have atte...
 

 

479 selected for CMSgt promotion

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Of the 2,525 senior master sergeants eligible for promotion to chief, 479 were selected for an 18.97 percent selection rate, Air Force Personnel Center officials announced today. To see the selection list, go to the Air Force Portal at https://my.af.mil, or myPers at https://mypers.af.mil. Airmen will be able to access their score...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen

Creech chiefs welcome finest Airmen into top enlisted tier

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Saugstad, center left, poses with his wife Senior Master Sgt. Carissa Saugstad, Chief Master Sgt. Butch Brien, 432nd Wing command chief, and ...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika

Creech commandeers career counseling capability

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika Senior Master Sgt. Tonya Joyce (left) and Master Sgt. Marcy Holland, both 99th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisors, are available to help Airmen stationed in Souther...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin