Meet Brooke, an incredibly funny 14 year old diagnosed with autism at age 4. Brooke is non-verbal, yet has a way of letting her personality shine without using words. During this session, she made me work for photos, laughing at me the whole time. You can see it in the photos, she may not be looking at me in all of them, because I had a hard time keeping up with her (she is a teenager after all, and moves much quicker than I do as I get older!), but her grin is one of satisfaction as I am panting and trying my best to get ahead of her! I even included a photo with Brooke's mom and sister giggling in the background about how much Brooke was enjoying how out of shape I am.
Brooke was 2 years old, she was diagnosed with 22q13.3 deletion disorder, also known as Phelan McDermid Syndrome. This is a genetic condition that is caused by a mutation of the SHANK3 gene or a deletion (a missing piece) of genetic material that causes many different, but related, symptoms. The genetic changes that cause PMS vary from person to person and can occur randomly or be inherited from a parent who carries a related genetic change. You can learn more about Phelan McDermid Syndrome HERE.
When Brooke was born she was given the diagnosis of Failure to Thrive and had to be fed by syringe until she finally figured out how to drink from a bottle. Brooke did not develop like a so-called typical child, she never pointed at objects, never babbled, never crawled, did not play appropriately with toys or people. At the age of 2, Brooke was still not walking on her own, feeding herself or potty trained. At this point, they were referred to Mayo for further evaluations and received the diagnoses of 22q13.3 deletion. As time went on she still showed no signs of progress and stimmed all the time. She would stare at her fingers, jump up and down or pull her hair out of the left side of her head and play with one strand of hair for what seemed like hours.
Brooke has a very quirky sense of humor and is really quite funny. She is very good at getting her point across even without words. Her smile and laugh will light up a room and when she looks into your eyes it's like she is looking into your soul. Her sister, Amy, will claim that Brooke's strengths are her charm and her ability to manipulate people to get them to do what she wants. Brooke loves being outside, riding bike, going to the park, going for walks, bowling, swimming, horse back riding and going for rides in the car.
Brooke really struggles being out in public, she becomes very agitated and seems to go into sensory overload. She has a hard time relating to people and does not understand personal space, stranger danger or situations which could put her in danger.
About raising a child with autism from Brooke's mom:
"Having a child with Autism is hard and, at times, very frustrating. But Brooke is really not a whole lot different than other children, she just wants to be loved and feel accepted. Once you get to know Brooke, you find many things to love and when you think you have her figured out, she will throw something new your way. Brooke is the best teacher I have ever had, she has taught me more than I could ever teach her."