Meet Berkley, a spirited 10 year old that was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. It's been a while since I last saw him and I can't believe how much older he seems! You can read his story from last year HERE.
Berkley was diagnosed with Autism at 3 1/2 years old. Berkley was the first child for his mom and while she was a pediatric nurse at the time, she did not truly understand development and milestones. He had difficulty with baby food, being fed, holding a bottle, took all of the cans out of the pantry and lined them up across the house - the same with books, and toy cars. He spun items vs played with them, etc. He would sit and stare out at nothing but was also a sweet, cuddly and very loving baby. He was "easy" - he didn't cry out or coo much but started to hum as a toddler. He was not talking, didn't "play" or join other kids in activities, use utensils or potty train like other boys his age. At about 18 months they moved and attributed some of his regression to the move. He kept regressing with what little language he had and started having "shut down" episodes when situations were too much for him to handle. He was in an in home daycare at the time who complained about his failure to do as the other boys did. They turned to Right Track Screening and were quickly referred for a full evaluation with Early Intervention. Berkley started Early Intervention at 2 years old.
Berkley is eager to learn, has an amazing memory and attention for details. He can recall dates, times, and other numbers like no other. He has memorized all the birth and death dates and the dates of presidencies for all the Presidents. Berkley has great hand-eye coordination and is a super star baseball batter. He loves baseball and will again be playing Bismarck Youth Baseball this year. He likes to bowl, ride his bike, and of course playing Minecraft and Mario games. He is a Chess rock-star and loves Monopoly. Berkley and his sister like to build forts and play with Nerf guns.
In the past year, Berkley started a new school this year and the family couldn't be happier. He is no longer anxious about school, tests, or the schedule of the day. He is reading large chapter books and can even retell much about his day with prompting. Berkley discovered Minecraft and drives his mother crazy, just like many other preteen boys his age. He fusses with his little sister but also enjoys playing with her. He has become a helper with his little brother who also has Autism. Berkley can identify friends versus acquaintances and truly does have "true" friends who accept him for who he is and he is eager to play with them. He has made huge strides in dressing and other areas of self-care. He met many of his therapy and IEP goals and continues to break down barriers and beliefs! He has taken on many tasks around the house like feeding the dogs and helping take out the trash. He thrives on positive reinforcement and gives the best hugs and high fives!
Berkley has difficulties socially, making acquaintances, greetings, and maintaining a conversation. He struggles with retelling information or answering open ended questions. He has come so far with foods and has been trying new food items lately and working to prepare snack items and breakfast foods himself. He struggles with bathing and brushing his teeth such as applying the correct amount of pressure and orientation. Thinking on his feet and following new or multi-step directions can still be difficult. Berkley has a good deal of anxiety with changes to routine, unexpected surprises, alarms, and the unknown. He asks lots of questions to reassure himself. He is very aware of his surrounding as far as structures but is oblivious to many safety concerns. Berkley has grown tremendously but definitely still struggles with self-direction, multiple step directions and new tasks.
Berkley's mom on having children with autism:
"My family is unique - in that we have two kiddos with Autism, both boys. Berkley is my oldest and our first diagnosed. Having a child with Autism, now, is my norm. It is hard to step back and realize all the things that have gone into making my children who they are today. Other families don't understand the rigid schedules, endless therapy appointments, reluctance to do new things and travel or go out as a family to new places, constant planning and preparation etc. My boys "shut down" vs "melt down" but they struggle all the same. It is so hard to know what your child needs when they have difficulty communicating their needs or expressing the emotions. A world that recognizes differences and individuality is a world closer to being non-judgmental. We all have quirks and differences, needs, and wants - we are all unique."
If you suspect your child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are great supports in the community. If your child is under 3 year old, you can also contact Right Track for a free screening. Locally the numbers to reach them are (701) 328-8930; or toll free 1-800-755-8529. A screening or evaluation CANNOT hurt and it can either point you in the right direction to help your child, or ease your mind if they are on track.