The Faces of Autism: Meet Natalie
Meet Natalie, a kind hearted 17 year old young woman diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Natalie was diagnosed with Autism at 6 years old. Between 10-12 months, Natalie had consistent, age appropriate language and had quite a few words in her vocabulary. Around the 12 month mark, she stopped standing on her legs with hands held and lost all of her words. She began humming, rocking, and pairing up shoes around the house. Natalie's pediatrician referred her to Early Intervention because she was not yet crawling. So, at 13 months she started getting services to work on gross motor skills. She finally began walking at 22 months old. The family moved and felt like Natalie was starting to get the hang of things, ending Early Intervention. At around 2.5 years old her daycare pointed out how delayed her language was, Natalie was still nonverbal, and her resistance to change. Her parents didn't know what normal was, but started seeing other kids her age and were concerned. Natalie's doctors told her parents that she was fine and just a late talker. They moved to Minot and decided to put her in Head Start. The special education professionals there that told her mom something was up and put her on an IEP. Then one of them, a mother of an adult boy with Autism, expressed that she thought Natalie had Autism. Natalie was over 3 years old. Her mom began college and became a Speech and Language Pathologist. Natalie was finally, officially diagnosed at 6 years old.
Natalie feels people's happiness and sadness with them. She sees people and not their disabilities or differences and is very sensitive to anyone demonstrating a mean or angry emotion. Natalie remembers facts about people so easily, she is like a walking talking birthday calendar. She can state the birthdays of almost anyone she has every met if she has been told their birthday. Natalie is endearing to the elderly, they love her and she loves them! Because of her ability to remember details about people such as how many kids they have, their birthdays, events in their life, she can talk to them so easily and for a long time. She also enjoys talking about those things over and over, so she can converse and keep elderly company for hours. Natalie is an amazing big sister. She spends much of her time at home hanging out with her little 3 year old brother. She plays with him, sings with him, takes selfies with him, and just loves on him. He loves her too and tells her he misses her when she is at school. They have a special bond. While taking her photos for this project, Natalie's best smiles came out while telling me about her little brother!
Natalie has very high anxiety and it can be very hard for her to try new things. The anticipation of a new situation she knows is coming creates significant anxiety as well. She also struggles with daily living and independence skills. Natalie has a very strong ability to maintain routine occurrences, especially when can be done daily and the same way every time, but when something in the routine changes or even a material such as the dish soap, she can have difficulty adapting. It is hard for her to take in verbal information and instructions on a new topic or activity and she needs to be shown several times before she can do a new task independently.
From Natalie's Mom about raising a child with Autism:
"I want to tell people it is a journey of ups and downs, many bumps in the road. Overcoming obstacles along the way are extremely rewarding. It feels like you just won a race or got to the top of a mountain you just climbed. For me personally, it is challenging. I love the special and unique things about her, but often feel sadness about the things that are so hard for her. I would take the autism away if I could. She is very aware of her challenges and differences and can get sad about it. As a parent, I wish I could just fix that for her. I am proud of how far she has come and worry for what she has ahead of her. We are currently in the transition to adulthood and I feel kind of like I did at the time I learned of her diagnosis all over again. I have a brand-new horizon ahead of me and she has a new one ahead of her. I plan on making it great."
One of the stereotypes of Autism is that there is a lack of empathy, whereas, as you can read from Natalie's story, that isn't always true. I really enjoyed THIS article on the subject, and it gives a bit more insight into all types of people with Autism in regards to empathy and emotions. Also, THIS was a great blog post, written by a woman with Asperger's, discussing the theory that people with Autism may actually have an overwhelming amount of empathy, often leading to the need to shut down.
If there is any part of you wondering if your child is hitting milestones like they should be, or speaking enough words and clearly, it NEVER hurts to get a free screening. It can either give you peace of mind, or help set you in the right direction (get it, Right Track, right direction?!?) to getting the services and help your child needs. If you are interested in a Developmental Screening for your child, you can call Right Track to get a FREE screening. The local, Bismarck number is 701.328.8930 or you can call toll free 1.800.755.8529 click HERE to find their brochure for other North Dakota locations and to learn more about Right Track.
If you suspect your child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are great supports in the community. One of my favorites is BisMan Autism Families on Facebook, the people there can help guide you in the right direction, through the process.