autism brothers

The Faces of Autism: Berkley

The Faces of Autism: Berkley

Meet Berkley, a smart 11 year old boy that was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. This is Berkley’s 4th year participating in Faces of Autism and it has been amazing watching him grow!

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The Faces of Autism: Beau

The Faces of Autism: Beau

Meet Beau, a fascinating 6 year old boy diagnosed with autism. Beau has been part of this project since the beginning and, as I am preparing his story, reminds me of one of the great parts of this project. I have the privilege of seeing how far these kids have come over the years and that is incredibly amazing.

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The Faces of Autism: Nathan

Meet Nathan, a 16 year old with a big heart that was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. Nathan participated in the project last year, you can read more information HERE.

Nathan is in his 2nd year of high school and for the first time, feels very comfortable and is enjoying his school year. Teachers taking the time to understand and get to know Nathan has made a world of difference. He has a fantastic team and when they let him know they get him: he shows them what he can do.

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Nathan is a sweet and sensitive kid. He cares deeply about people and the worlds injustices. He has a very giving heart. He has an excellent memory for almost everything he cares a lot about. His biggest struggles are with socializing and eating. Nathan is very much a homebody. He prefers to stay home watching WWE wrestling, or gaming, especially Mario and Sonic games. The foods he eats are very limited. He enjoys French fries from McDonald's, Burger King, and Red Lobster. No other restaurants or foods while going out to eat. He has been working on getting larger menu in food therapy for quite a while.

Nathan loves the WWE, Mario and Sonic, reading, television, and helping his mom. He loves to smile and laugh. Going to movies or shopping for a new game is also fun especially his favorite store Rock 30 games. His family has learned that Nathan loves the old English Classics.

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Some highlights and struggles involved with raising a child with autism, from Nathan’s mom: “Nathan has taught me so many things. He has taught me to slow down and really look at things. He loves detail and takes it all in very quickly. I have learned to look closer and slowly at more things. Life is so complicated and yet so simple. He sees it all. Differences can and should be celebrated. He has a very good heart full of innocence and love. If only the world could be full of love like he has it would be a better place. Due to the need he has to be on a schedule of routine, it is very hard to do some of the simplest or spontaneous things. Sadness, meltdowns, and anxiety happen when we throw him off schedule. This doesn’t always happen, but when we have a choice, we usually chose to keep on normal schedules.

 Living with family with autism can be challenging at times. It can be frustrating, frightening, sad, overwhelming and exhausting. However, I would not change anything about it. It is also full of joy, happiness, laughter, humor, hope and above all love.

If you would want to help and support a family or individual with autism “Learn to look and take delight in the small things, not just the big things. Patience is important. Do not tell someone “their behaviors are just temper tantrums and your kid has them too. You need to use harsh punishments.”
Meltdowns are different. All people are different. All people with autism just want the same as everybody else. Love and acceptance.”

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If your child has been recently diagnosed, or you suspect they may have autism, the advice Nathan’s mom would like to give is: “Delight in the small things.details and simplicity are important. Ask for help. The autism community we have here is fantastic and everybody needs a great support system sometimes. It is okay to not be perfect. It is okay to grieve at some points. There are others going through these things with you and beside you that you can turn too. Family Voices of North Dakota is my families Godsend! We have met incredible families on our journey.”

If you have any questions about autism or how to help support families with autism, please feel free to reach out or comment and I will do my best to help you.

The Faces of Autism: Wrap Up

First and foremost, I cannot thank you enough.  All of you.  The kids and families that participated in this year's project the most.  Without each and every one of you sharing your time and story with me, this wouldn't be possible.  You are all amazing and you are all doing an incredible job. Thank you.
To those that support these kids and families, thank you.  You are so important and appreciated, even if it isn't said or shown as much as we would like.
To everyone else that read these stories throughout the month, those that shared them, those that actively tried to be a little more understanding, thank you. Those little things can make a big impact.

Today is the last day of Autism Awareness Month, but for the kids featured this month and their families, as well as all of the rest out there, EVERY month is Autism Awareness Month.  Every day we try to teach others about our children in order to work towards acceptance and understanding.  I would be willing to bet that most adults, and probably teens at this point, are aware that autism exists.  Sure, they may not be aware of all that is autism because it is a spectrum, which means it isn't a cookie-cutter diagnosis.  One thing we want for our children is acceptance.  We want their peers to accept their differences and see how those differences make our kids amazing.  Because they are.  We don't want to worry about them being teased and bullied.  We want them to be able to use their strengths to be the best they can be.  We want them to be able to get the support they need at school so they can be successful there, because success there is a stepping stone to a fulfilling future.  We want them to be able to be productive members of society.  We want them to be happy.  Acceptance and understanding from others is a step in the right direction to all of those things.  And let's face it, autism or not, that's what everyone wants, to be accepted.

I ask that, after reading these stories, you take a moment the next time you see a "tantrumming" child at the grocery store, a restaurant, park, or wherever, and, instead of passing judgement, realize that there may be something more going on that you cannot see in that moment.  Yes, it may be just a grumpy child that is not used to hearing "no", but it could be a child like mine that is going through a sensory overload because of all the noise or the bright lights and is having a meltdown, out of their own control.  If you want to show some true understanding, go up to the parent(s) and ask if there is anything you can do to help.  I guarantee an act of kindness like that will help them longer than in that moment.
I ask that you talk to your children about people with differing abilities, and how to be more understanding to them.  The kid in class that only talks about one thing and seems to always change every conversation into that one thing isn't selfish or self-absorbed, it is because their brain works differently and is just that kids way of sharing with you what they love and know.  Talk to them about being kind and not teasing others for being different.  Talk to them about standing up for others, this doesn't mean they have to confront the bullies if that's not what they are comfortable with, but alerting a nearby adult to the situation is another way to stand up for others. 

There is a quote by Stephen Shore "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism".  As you could tell by the stories I featured this month, every kid had different signs their parents saw to lead to a diagnosis.  Every kid had different strengths and different struggles.  Yes, there were similarities in many stories, but none were exactly the same.  Which is exactly what his quote was talking about.  I have heard a few times things along the lines of "My neighbor's cousin's second wife's brother's son has autism and THIS is what they do that helps him, you should try that!" and I would venture to say many other parents have heard similar. With the latest data showing that roughly 1 in 59 children being diagnosed with autism, chances are you know someone with a connection to autism.  Those numbers average out to be about one child in each grade level in an elementary school that has an autism diagnosis.  Which is just another example of why acceptance and understanding are so important. 

If you have autism, child or adult, or your child has autism, and you would like to participate in next year's project, feel free to send me a message now and I will make sure to get in touch with you when I start scheduling. 
If you have any suggestions or feedback about information you feel I should include next year, please let me know!  I am open to others opinions and ideas.

Once again, thank you so much for the help and support of this year's project.