Autism: A Journey of Understanding

April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability. Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism than girls. Autism appears in the form of many subtypes. Because it’s a spectrum disorder, people with Autism can range from low functioning to high functioning. Signs of Autism are usually noticed between the ages of 2-3 years old but can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. It has been proven that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life.

My son Kaden was diagnosed at 2 years old by Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. His pediatrician indicated that he wasn’t meeting certain milestones and recommended further testing at a behavioral center. Kaden is now 12 years old and has made tremendous progress from early intervention and specialty programs that focus on Autism. Upon diagnosis, Kaden was immediately placed in a program at James Ryder Randall elementary school, with other 2 and 3-year-olds with a similar diagnosis. Since the age of 5, he has attended a private school that specifically focuses on the Autism diagnosis. Kaden thrives in small classroom settings. He’s currently in a class with 6 children, 1 teacher, and 2 teacher assistants. This allows him to receive the additional help he needs to continue to grow and progress. He also participates in speech therapy and occupational therapy sessions several times a week.

Kaden is considered high functioning on the Autism Spectrum. He loves math, science, reading, and figuring out “how things work.” He’s very routine-driven and hyper-focused on anything that’s outside of his normal routine. He asks a lot of questions about anything that deviates from his “normal” schedule. We always prepare him ahead of time as much as possible for any upcoming changes. Like many 12-year-olds, he enjoys playing video games, watching YouTube, and spending time on his iPad. Kaden is easily overstimulated in social settings and prefers to not be in environments that are too busy.

As a parent with a child with Autism, you become their biggest advocate. I’ve spent countless hours researching Autism. The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make on your child’s behalf. I participate in ALL treatment decisions and I’m extremely vocal. I understand what triggers Kaden and how to avoid or calm those triggers. There are many resources available that vary by location, I highly recommend researching programs in your area. Stay consistent. Your journey with Autism can shift gears at any moment. Figure out your child’s motivations, pay attention to nonverbal cues, know their sensory sensitivities, assess strengths and weaknesses, and create a personalized plan based on these things.

Embrace diversity and use every opportunity as a teaching moment for those who aren’t well versed with Autism.

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