A trait not so rare [UPDATED]Published 4:45am Monday, April 29, 2013 Updated 6:47am Monday, April 29, 2013
With a crooked smile, Bo talks about transformers. He is well versed, knowing how much some of his transforming toys would cost if bought at full price — but he quickly points out he didn’t pay that price — he seemed proud that he has gotten great deals on his favorite toys.
In every sense, he appears to act like any other 12-year-old boy.
But there are subtle differences.
He talks fast, with little eye contact. He keeps his hands busy as he disperses his considerable knowledge about his favorite toys. All are common traits associated with autism.
Autism is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function, causing many children with autism to appear learning disabled, according to websites on the topic.
A lot of children with autism look like other children, but how they react to the world going on around them is different, local parents of children with autism said.
Bo is socially aware of his differences, said his mother Nicole Anderson, of Fergus Falls. She and her husband, Erik, adopted Bo from a South Korean orphanage when he was six months old.
“We talk about it,” she said. “He so badly wants to be like the other kids.”
Hudson, the son of Matt and Laura Holmquist of Fergus Falls, plays in mud puddles like other 5-year-olds, stomping to splash the water, but he doesn’t understand about danger. He can wander away in the blink of an eye and once was burned when he put his hand into a working toaster.
“We are constantly watching him,” Laura Holmquist said. “He doesn’t understand the cause and effect of danger.”
“Their brains are wired differently,” Matt Holmquist added.
Matt and Laura adopted Hudson at birth from a Florida mother. There were no indications at the time of Hudson’s adoption of what was to be. Five months later, the couple adopted another son, Zane, at the time a toddler, from an orphange in Haiti.
Soon after Hudson’s second birthday, the Holmquists started putting the pieces together — he always walked on his tiptoes, he was particular about the brand of diaper he wore, and he didn’t talk. He also had a habit of lining up objects. He would put his toys in a line, or take dishes from the dishwasher and line them up on the counter.
With five other children, Matt and Laura realized something was wrong. Laura started researching Hudson’s symptoms on the Internet and found they could check off most that applied to autism. The disorder often turns a family’s life upside down bcause what they previously took for granted has to be changed. Parents are always thinking about the impact of their actions on their autistic child, Laura said.
For instance, the Holmquists can’t just run into the grocery store because it may cause distress for Hudson.
“We have had to change how we operate as a family,” Laura said. “We can’t just go to a parade, or the girls can’t have friends over to the house often unless we really plan for it. The things we used to take for granted we now have to think about, and work out an exit plan if it proves too much for Hudson.”
When he experiences too much stimulation, he acts out, she said. She has on occasion felt disapproving stares from others who perhaps think they are bad parents because they can’t control their child.
But what is really going on is Hudson can’t process and cope with all that is happening around him. He has stimulus overload.
To calm him, they try to remove him from the situation or focus his attention on something specific.
Hudson get help from his sisters, ages 9, 11, 14, and 16, who often help their parents with therapy or other activities.
“(Hudson’s sisters) are very helpful,” Matt said. “We couldn’t do this without them.”
“He is very adored,” Laura said.
Nicole started noticing differences between Bo and her friends’ children before he was a year old. He didn’t appear to want to interact with the other kids, was demanding of her attention and wasn’t potty-trained until he was about five years old.
But she attributed the differences to Bo’s living in an orphanage and coming from another country.
“All my hopes and dreams for Bo changed when autism was spoken,” she said. “You grieve — as you learn more and live with a child with autism — at different times, it comes in waves.”
Bo doesn’t do what other kids naturally do, she said. He would rather be home. It’s very comfortable, a safe place for him. When there is a change, Nicole’s first thought is how will this affect Bo.
“It’s not that we won’t do it, but we have to figure out how to do it differently,” Nicole said.
Both families say the support of family, friends, educators and other professionals is invaluable.
In the Holmquist family, Hudson’s sisters will encourage their parents to go on a date night. Laura and Erik, a self-employed electrician, work out together twice a week.
Friends have been supportive and non-judgmental, and teachers have been easy to work with, both private and public school educators, both families said.
“I work with the teachers,” Nicole said, adding that Bo is a student at Morning Son Christian School. “I don’t make it easy for him, but I try to make it so that he can be successful.”
But while the challenges are a bit daunting at times for families of autistic children, the joys are huge.