Today, the day I’m writing this piece, the Centers for Disease Control has reported that one in 88 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum; among boys, one in 54 are affected. When our son was diagnosed some 15 years ago, there was a one-in-10,000 chance to win the autism lottery. Now, one child is diagnosed on the spectrum every 20 seconds.
Is it just that more children are affected with the disorder? Or are more cases being detected? Good questions, but not ones I’m going to attempt to answer here.
Here, I would like to thank the many people who have supported our son, a wonderful, talented and humorous young man, James Frye. You see, James is a graduating senior at Central Valley High School this year. He’s passed his standardized-testing requirements, kept his grades up, and is going to walk with his classmates to receive his diploma. Sounds pretty typical, right? Well no, not this time. Not at all.
James was a beautiful, healthy baby born at Sacred Heart Hospital. We were the proud new parents of this clever, happy boy, who was developing well, meeting and beating all his milestones.
But we became very concerned when he started turning so ill, allergic and quiet around 18 months of age. In those days, this was a very uncommon situation and a deep sense of confusion became our new norm. Were we scared? Stunned stupid was more like it.
Subsequent to his diagnosis of moderate Autism Spectrum Disorder at 3 1/2 years of age, we decided, as his parents, that this was not about us. It is about him. Our goal was to help him regain his health, his development, and his life — and figure out just how he was going to make it a good one.
The starting point was his first official physical therapy appointment. Stripped down to his diaper, facing a sensory obstacle course, he mustered all his remaining courage. After making it to Step Two of 10, he passed out, fast asleep. The shock to his system overwhelmed him so much he just shut down. This far behind the rest? Tragically so
Our son started his school career at 3 1/2 years of age. His allergies raged for much of his young life. He didn’t have much to say until he was about 6 years old. He had a personal speech therapist for 11 years and a string of school teachers, aides and assistants provided to him almost daily. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, food aversion therapy, behavior therapy (just once, he was sick not defiant), and an assortment of medical treatments were embedded within the moments that fill his childhood memories. Were we sad? Seriously, don’t go there.
My husband Dan, a teacher himself, and I were invited to an autism workshop hosted by the school psychologist at CVHS this spring. It was a room full of educators, counselors, administrators and others interested enough in the subject to attend. We were wide open for questions and answers from this crowd.
What is it like to have a child on the spectrum? Wow, how to explain. Does he know? Yes, he does and he gets self-conscious in some situations because of it. How about his brother? What is their relationship like? Solid — his younger brother is an outstanding man of his own. They wrestle, bicker and tease somewhat like other siblings do. A goodday memory? The day he lied about eating the Fritos. That brand of higher cognitive function was welcome in our home.
Mostly, we credit our son with his amazing life story and turnaround. He is the master of his own soul and the driver of his own development. He participated in therapies, took the medicines, while suffering through it all. But not by himself. Never alone, he had us, his family.
The perfect opportunity was presented that afternoon. The opportunity to thank those people involved with his education. The outstanding, dedicated staff that has helped shape a young man who had so far to go to get here, to his pending graduation. We thank all the special people who got to know him, share his offbeat humor, develop his passion in the arts and calm him down when he lost his temper. We truly appreciate you all — right now and into the big, bright future of our boy.
For more information on autism support, contact the ISSAC Foundation (theissacfoundation.org) or the Northwest Autism Center (nwautism.org).