Parents of autistic children say sacrifices worthwhilePublished 10:58am Monday, April 29, 2013
For Nicole and Erik Anderson, parents of an autistic son, Bo, third-grade proved to be the ah-ha year.
That’s the year children begin accelerated reading. There also are more responsibilities in the classroom, Nicole said.
“Bo couldn’t keep up with this classmates. Frustrated, he acted out,” she said. “But the teachers knew to watch out for (autism symptoms).”
The Andersons, of Fergus Falls, adopted Bo from a Haitian orphanage when he was a toddler and have learned to accommodate his special needs.
Nicole worked with the teachers and soon they had worked out an Individual Education Plan for Bo.
“The first day of fourth grade the IEP took effect,” she said, “And it made all the difference.”
Bo started his school career at Fergus Falls Public Schools, the Andersons switched him to Morning Son Christian School when he was a kindergartner, primarily because of their religious beliefs, but also because of the smaller classroom size.
Matt and Laura Holmquist also live with a son with autism.
They adopted Hudson as an infant from a Florida mother and had no indication of what was to be until he was about 2, though they said there were earlier signs that his brain was wired differently.
Although the couple suspected autism from online research, it wasn’t until they requested an evaluation through the school that they had confirmation that Hudson was showing symptoms of autism.
The disorder affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys — they are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism. It is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.; however, it receives less than five percent of the research funding than many less prevalent childhood diseases. On average autism costs families about $60,000 a year.
While an educational determination is important, and is made by an evaluation team of school professionals, a medical diagnosis is equally important. A physician uses a series of diagnostic tests and assesses the symptoms. An early school evaluation helps parents get their children involved in special education services.
Finding the right specialist proved difficult, the Holmquists said, though both families said that local pediatricians have been helpful and provided referrals. Laura and Matt take Hudson to Jamestown, N.D., to work with a specialist there, and also work closely with the special education department.
“(The teachers) have been very supportive and instrumental in his development and growth,” Laura said, but in spite of the community support, they still are “vigilant advocates for our son.”
Morning Son ends its educational opportunities for children in sixth grade, so Nicole will pay to have a paraprofessional to homeschool Bo beginning this fall. He will still receive some special education services through the public school system.
“In my situation, it’s good fro me to be just a mom, not a teacher and a mom,” she said. “He does so well one-on-one.”
It’s not the only financial sacrifice the Andersons are willing to make: Bo also works with a trainer at Athletic Republic, but it’s all worth it, Nicole said, because he gets so much out of it.
Both families, though facing challenges in parenting their boys with autism, say they wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s hard and intense, but we have so much joy,” Laura said. “(Hudson) has given us so much more. He has united us as a family. We have the feeling we are in this together. We all come together to help him succeed.”
Families can be overwhelmed and feel isolated parenting a child with autism, but fortunately there is help. Both the Andersons and the Holmquists say family and friends have provided so much support, but there is also a local group, “A”-OK Autism Support Group and Autism Care Team, to help.
The group is a network of parents and guardians and grandparents of children on the autism spectrum. The group meets the second Saturday of each month from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Otter Tail Power Community Rooms. Anyone with a child or grandchild on the
autism spectrum is invited to join the confidential group. There is no fee to belong.
Last weekend, the group sponsored several events designed to heighten awareness of autism. Several businesses offered a portion of their profits to raise money for services for parents of children with autism, or offered family photos or haircuts to the children. A 5K walk also helped raise money and awareness for the disorder.
A couple websites also provide education and support: www.autism-society.org and www.autismspeaks.org
For now, the local resources for families and children living with autism are supportive; but what will happen to these children as they mature into adults? There is a large population of adults living with autism, according to Carrie Beithon, an “A”-OK Autism Support Group and Autism Care Team member and parent of an adult child living with autism.
“They fall through the cracks and are not able to receive any assistance or obtain employment,” she said, adding the number will continue to rise, which makes the support group and community resources all the more important.
Although the challenges will continue, the Andersons and the Holmquists feel blessed.
“I thank the Lord everyday,” Nicole said. “Some days are easier to give thanks than others, but still I am thankful that I can be a mom.”