To officially kick off "The Faces of Autism", I started with my youngest child, MiKynna. She is 2.5 years old, and was diagnosed with Autism at 15 months old.
When MiKynna was an infant, she was behind on most milestones. We missed out on all the cute baby babbles and giggles. She didn't crawl on time, she had no interest in toys, she didn't point at things she wanted. MiKynna would completely ignore her older sister, refusing to look at her or acknowledge her in any way. She didn't respond to her name, or anything else that was said to her.
By the time she was one year old, I was concerned. By 14 months, her pediatrician was also concerned and did an M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), which showed that MiKynna was highly likely to have Autism. She had an official evaluation shortly after that and was diagnosed at 15 months with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
MiKynna is a sweet, funny, smart girl. She works hard to do things that comes easily to most. She spends multiple hours a week with therapists (OT and Speech) and her Early Intervention Teacher. When she isn't working with them, she works with her family. Even playing at home with us, it turns into speech or OT lessons. At her young age, she has no idea why she is working so hard, but she does it anyway.
I have learned a lot from MiKynna. I am more patient than I have ever been. I don't take the little things for granted anymore. When I see a kid having a hard time in public, I no longer roll my eyes. Instead, I acknowledge the fact that I know nothing about that child, that parent, that family, or their struggles. I empathize. Because I am that parent. My child gets overwhelmed in public and has meltdowns. All the noises, lights, and people are too much for her sometimes. I hear the whispers, see the looks. I cringe every time someone comes up and tries to "help" or give advice.
Beyond that, if I have learned anything, it is early intervention is key. MiKynna has made such progress since her diagnosis. A year ago, MiKynna had absolutely no intelligible sounds and we didn't know if she would ever talk. Yes, every child develops at their own rate, but if you have any sliver of doubt about your child and their development, please get a developmental screening. It doesn't hurt and can either ease your mind or help you help your child and give them the best chance in life.
This project is about more than Autism awareness for me. This is about acceptance. This isn't for you to pity these children or parents, but to see, despite any struggles and delays, they are people too. They have feelings, even if they don't know how to express them, either appropriately or at all. We all worry extensively about the future of our children, what they will become, if they will be happy. Special needs parents worry if their child will be able to do daily tasks. If they can take care of themselves. If they will be bullied, if they will be loved. We worry, extensively, and hope that all the running around, the fighting for services, the sacrifices we and our families make, will pay off.
If you made it this far, thank you! I promise, not all the posts will be this long for the rest of the month. :) Please feel free to share MiKynna's story to bring Autism Awareness and Acceptance!