Our family’s journey into the world of autism began twenty-nine years ago with the birth of our son, Matthew. We welcomed our beautiful boy into the world and were relieved when he passed all the newborn screening tests. However, by the time Matt turned two, that began to change. We began to notice that he had some very unusual behaviors and difficulty interacting with other children. He experienced fine and gross motor skill delays, had a noticeable sensory sensitivity and an inability to make eye contact. Matt had little interest in playing with other children or most age appropriate toys, games or sports. Play dates, preschool and elementary school were very difficult for Matt since he had difficulty fitting into social situations. He became a target for teasing and bullying by other children.
Unfortunately, education and awareness of autism spectrum disorders in 1995 was not what it is today. Matt, like many children back then, was initially misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and placed on Ritalin at seven years old. It wasn’t until he was almost eight years old that he was correctly diagnosed with his true condition, Asperger’s syndrome (AS). AS is a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Today, AS is now considered a “high-functioning” type of a broader category of autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
After several more years struggling at a public school, Matt was rapidly falling below grade level expectations and had become a sad and lonely little boy. Out of necessity, we began to navigate our own educational path and designed a personalized, grade level curriculum for him. Supported by excellent homeschool teachers, we were able to create a happier and more peaceful learning environment for Matt. He began to make real progress academically and his happy nature reappeared; a sense of calmness came over our family. After eight years of homeschool, Matt graduated from his high school program and set his sights on college. We eventually found an Asperger’s syndrome therapy group, but unfortunately, by then, Matt was almost a teenager. We often wonder how different Matt’s development would have been had been diagnosed and received appropriate therapy earlier.
As we reflect back on the last twenty-nine years raising Matt, we are amazed with how far he has come! He is now living independently in Boulder, Colorado and completing a Master’s Degree in educational psychology and certification in assistive technology. He has a job and is working towards a career where he can use his own experience with disability to help others like himself achieve productive, fulfilling lives. His story is still a work in progress and he continues to astound us every day with his courage, strength, kind nature and wonderful sense of humor. We are so proud of the amazing man he has become!
Today, with early detection of ASD, families can minimize feelings of helplessness that they can experience due to amazing organizations such as Imua Family Services. We recognize how important it is for our community to support the work they do. Their mission to, “To Empower children and their families to reach their full potential,” gives families and their children the gift of hope for a brighter future. We assure you, your support really matters and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you!