Autism parents have Speak-Up Day every day [Virginian - Pilot]
(Virginian - Pilot Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) TUESDAY is "Speak-Up Day" at my 8-year-old's school, and on this particular Tuesday, Quin was front and center, about to talk in front of 50 of his peers.
The boy diagnosed with autism spectrum Asperger's five years ago because he didn't speak, might never speak, was making my dream come true. I did not boo-hoo until I wrote that last sentence, and now I'm a puddle.
Quin is the youngest of four boys, so when he didn't speak more than three words at age 3, I tried to rationalize it, convinced myself it was because his brothers were talking over him and for him. Nope. Not it. When the pediatrician says the word "autism" to a mother, any words that follow, like "spectrum" and "degree," are lost as your heart squeezes until all you hear is your heartbeat in your ears.
Having experienced that is the reason I am writing now, speaking up, because other parents are hearing only the thunder of their breaking hearts. Reading hope is perhaps the only comfort.
On the desk in front of me is the pocket journal I kept throughout 2007, detailing every indicator, trigger, new word, EEG, assessment team meeting and milestone.
I can tell you what he wore (March 7th, 2007: soft orange shirt, jeans, denim jacket with faux fleece collar, sneakers). Quinny focused on his Thomas the Tank Engine trains to the exclusion of all else. In fact, it was a ride on a Norfolk Southern train that initially brought him out of the long, dark, silent tunnel and got him to make the connection to our world and begin to speak.
Still, he would melt down screaming over things like loud noise, new people, new places, changes in routine, breaks in pattern (walk to the end of the path and turn and stop and wait and turn and stop and then get in the car).
At 3, he was more comfortable with baby sign language than words. Yet at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, he memorized his speech therapist's keypad code at a glance and thereafter beat her to the door to wordlessly code in. He could not say his own name at that time, but numbers and patterns have always been his strength.
We've come a long way, baby. I admit I was worried when he asked to join this group started by Vicky Greco at Larchmont Elementary to teach kids public speaking confidence. I grilled Greco on every single detail of how the morning would shake out, so that I could map it for Quin. It's all about pattern, managing expectations and potential surprises. It's math, linear, with variables, pluses and minuses, and all things being equal, you can make your days add up to successes.
Someday, he won't need me to be his daily GPS.
The day before Speak-Up, he went into a good, old-fashioned Asperger's meltdown. He stopped talking and began to brood. Bottom lip atremble. Hundred-yard stare coming on. I have radar for this now and began the talk-down process.
"It's new," I said flatly. "We know about new, right?" Silent nod and big, fat tears welling up. "OK, new is always like this. So it's a pattern, which makes it old. Right?" Hmmm. His logic circuits are engaging to override the panic circuits. Then I delivered my patent- pending speech on all the times he freaked out and it turned out to be OK, or even awesome.
I reminded him he's brave. He likes being brave. I told him he's going to be a leader and show the other kids who are scared how to get through it. He likes being a leader because he's the youngest of four and always the follower. Now he suddenly can't wait to do it. Asperger's kids are often emotionally younger and more suggestible, and I have used that to his advantage. In times like these, Dumbo cannot have too many magic feathers.
We walked to school to chill out. On arrival, I pointed out how scared a couple of little girls look and tell him it's time to lead. Straight-up, like I am sending a soldier off to war, or a football star onto the gridiron for the championship. He does. He volunteers to be front of the line and is first to get up to speak and be an example.
Then we learned each class will be assigned to do the morning announcements on school TV the day it has physical education. For him that's Mondays - Math Mondays! He will be speaking into the camera about math. It's like Christmas. It's winning the Powerball. This child can talk about math the way Paula Deen can talk about ham at a picnic.
When you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, it's important to let others know there is hope. Many victories are there for the taking, and chances are opportunities.
If you know a child who is challenged in this or any other way, speak up. Let others know how they're doing. It's the best Mother's Day gift you can give.
Lisa Suhay is a children's book author and runs the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence. Email: Lsuhays2@cox.net.
(c) 2012 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.
[ Back To TMCnet.com's Homepage ]