Tag Archives: Autism Speaks

Two Girls Revisited

Earlier this month, I wrote about my two wonderful nieces who happen to have Autism Spectrum Disorders.  As I have noted, April is Autism Awareness Month.  April also happens to mark both of their birthdays.  These incredible young ladies are on my mind quite a bit, and I wanted to share something that I think it is not only important for parents and family of kids with autism, but for all parents in general.

When my older niece was diagnosed with autism, my sister and brother-in-law were able to enter her into an early childhood preschool program to help her develop social skills.  There were still struggles, but as the time to send her to kindergarten drew closer, it became evident that she would be able to enter a “normal” elementary school.  Going to mainstream school seems to have helped her flourish.  Maybe it was the extra interaction with kids, maybe it was the structure, maybe she was just ready.  In any case, like I have stated before she now looks and acts pretty much like a typical tween.

My younger niece would follow the same footsteps.  She attended the early childhood program preschool.  Although she wasn’t as advanced as her older sister when it came time for kindergarten, program administrators along with my sister and husband agreed that she would be able to attend an elementary school in a normal classroom setting.  The one difference is that she has always had an individual aide assigned to her. 

Flash forward to a couple of months ago.  She is now in third grade.  The principal requested to meet with my sister.  The school had made the decision to transfer my niece to a special education classroom at a different school.  This was quite distressing for my sister.  Like many kids with autism, changes in routine can be traumatic for my niece.   It turns out that being in a smaller classroom has had an incredibly positive effect on her.  She genuinely enjoys going to school now.  She won an award for citizenship at her school.  She has even been able to go off of one of her behavioural medicines, which has had the added benefit of letting her slim down considerably.  The other day she had a swimming party for her birthday where she invited kids from her old class.  It was so great to hear the kids tell her how much they missed her.  Although I am sure that she misses them too, I can’t help but think she is happier now.

As parents, how many times to we try to fit a square peg into a round hole?  My nieces have taught me that each child is unique, valuable, and respond differently, whether they have a “disability” or not.  We worry that Baby Girl doesn’t talk as much as Little Guy did at the same age, but we neglect to remember how incredibly verbose he was for his age.  Yet, she seems to have motor skills that are far ahead of what his were at her age.  It seems that we will never stop learning from our children.

As a reminder, please visit Autism Speaks for more information on children with autism spectrum disorders.

UPDATE: Please visit this awesome site.  Autism Love Hope.  She makes awesome jewelry that you can use for gifts or to help spread awareness.

WEDNESDAY FUN: My first artistic endeavour

Earlier this month I spoke about my sudden desire to create some art, and I wanted to share my first painting:

I was actually pleasantly surprised.  While I obviously have amature level skills, I went about it without much of a plan.  The sailboat is going away from stormy waters towards calmer seas and the sunrise, an obvious metaphor for overcoming depression.  What I didn’t plan was that the side representing the future is much more blurred, and the brush strokes follow no pattern.  An added, but not purposeful metaphor.

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A Story of Two Girls

I want to take the time today to share a story about two wonderful girls in my life.  Seeing their struggles and triumphs not only has brought me closer to them, but also encouraged me to become an advocate for a special cause.

While I was doing my graduate studies, my sister and new brother-in-law informed me that they were expecting.  I was so exited to be an uncle!  I probably don’t have to tell most people how incredible a child’s laugh or hug is for the soul.  My niece was born nearly 11 years ago now.  If she wasn’t cute enough, by the time her hair really started coming in, she had the most beautiful mop of curls.

She seemed to be developing so rapidly.  By about 1 1/2 she had developed a fairly normal vocabulary.  She would laugh and play.  At two, she would sit on my lap at the computer and pick out each letter that I would ask her to.  Then, slowly but surely, she began to turn more and more inward.  Her talking seemed to stop almost altogether.  What would be normal tantrums for other little ones turned to off the charts ballistic.  In our town we have a great early childhood program.  My niece was evaluated, and the verdict that came back was just as my sister and b-i-l feared: autism.

Not wanting autism to define her life, my sister and her family did everything they could to help her.  Sometimes it was frustrating, such as still having to wear diapers at four years old.  Sometimes exhilarating, like when we would see her flashes of brilliance.  Today she is classified as “high functioning”.  I don’t particularly like this phrase, because it makes her sound like some kind of advanced robot, but it is what we have.  By nearly all measures she is a normal tween.  The only things that we notice is that she can be particularly sensitive at times, and also seems to sometimes have problems processing idioms and other figures of speech.  She is one of my heroes.  She inspires me so much.

My next niece was born two years later.  I am pretty sure she was one of the cutest babies that have ever been born.  Although she didn’t seem to have any problems with motor skills, her speech didn’t develop as quickly as her sister.  She did seem to be a little quieter (but isn’t this normal for second children?) but also withdrawn.  Once again the experts came in, and once again delivered the devastating news: autism.

I wish I could say that she shook it off like her big sister.  I can’t.  At almost nine years old, she still seems to be trapped in her own mind.  She is a brilliant girl.  She loves to read, has handwriting that is better than many adults, and can play melodies on the piano by ear.  She just has a problem relating to other people.  She knows many words but shares few.  She doesn’t know how to express herself when she is upset or frustrated.  But she is beautiful and just as inspiring as her older sister.  Not much can compare to when she gives me a hug and says, “I love you.”

April is autism awareness month.  Autism spectrum disorders affect an estimated 3 to 6 out of every 1000 children.  Boys are 4 times as likely to develop an ASD than girls. Through treatment and medication, symptoms can improve.  There is no cure, however.  Citation

Social media is a great way to spread autism awareness.  With facebook, blogs, and twitter, we can get the word out that kids with ASD are more normal than we give them credit for.  For more information, visit Autism Speaks, a leading organization in autism awareness and a wonderful resource.

TUESDAY FUN: An Inspirational Story

You may have already seen this, as the story is a few years old.  But the actual story will never get old for me.

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