“What does Autism look like?” Many Autism parents ponder this question when we hear remarks from others such as, “Oh, but your child doesn’t look autistic!” Quite a few people have this huge misconception that a child with Autism has a certain “look.” However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Each and every autistic kid is unique and special in their own way.
Joey, age four, is the light of his parents’ lives. In the two years since Joey was diagnosed with Autism, he has made huge strides of improvement. He has gone from being completely nonverbal to being able to imitate and repeat words and even putting together short sentences. He’s become more sociable, confident, and outgoing as well. Joey’s biggest passion is swimming. He loves to swim and has been excelling throughout his swimming lessons. Joey has incredible memory skills and spelling skills. He can already spell his last name and several other words, including animals and colors. His current favorite TV show is Umizoomi, and his favorite movie is Boss Baby. He requests to watch Boss Baby on a daily basis. Joey also loves to look at books and have his parents read them to him. His favorite toys are action figures. He loves to line them up in rows along one of the window sills at his house and play with them. Joey enjoys playing independently and is good at entertaining himself. However, he also is beginning to include others in playtime and make friends with his peers. Joey’s bright spirit and zeal for life inspires his family to appreciate life in a way they never knew was possible.
Josh, often referred to as J-Bird, is an incredible, tech savvy young man. J-Bird is a nickname that was given to Josh by his first neurologist back in 2002. Josh was eight weeks old when his parents learned of his brain damage from cytomegalovirus (a virus his mother must have unknowingly contracted while pregnant). Not knowing what would come of Joshua’s life, his family started their journey early on, which was filled with uncertainty. Today, J-Bird is fifteen years old. He is completely nonverbal, so he utilizes a VOD (voice output device) to communicate his wants and needs to others. His favorite requests are: “I want milk,” “I want to ride the train,” and “Quiet voice, please,” (whenever he’s politely asking others to lower their voices). Josh smiles whenever a pretty girl is nearby. He absolutely loves ravioli and will eat ravioli all day long. J-Bird has an impeccable sense of direction. When it comes to a routine or driving normal routes in the car, you will always know when you’ve made a wrong turn because you will get yelped at or screeched at. Josh is also a YouTube whiz when it comes to his favorite videos. He knows how far to scroll down and which videos link to which other videos to find his favorite Wiggles, Lion King, or Nemo scenes that he wants to watch over and over. Josh also knows how to manipulate the time bar to the precise second of each video he wishes to see every single time. J-Bird is Au-some, as you can see.
Deacon is a highly intelligent seven year old with a huge heart of gold. At 9 months old, Deacon’s parents started to realize something wasn’t right. They brought it up at a visit with the pediatrician. Then, they realized that Deacon was the only kid not decorating Christmas cookies while they were visiting with friends. Instead, Deacon was chewing on his paintbrush. Upon noticing this, Deacon’s parents immediately got him into ECI and on the waiting list for the Meyer Center at Texas Children’s Hospital. In the midst of all this, his parents found out Deacon was having seizures in the ocipital lobe of his brain (the part of the brain that controls vision). So, he was also diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment. His eyes worked normally, but his brain couldn’t process what he was seeing properly. His family learned that visual impairment has tons of similarities to autism (stimming, lack of eye contact, and lack of enjoyment of toys or shared pleasures). At a little over 2 years old, Deacon was evaluated and diagnosed with Autism. His family immediately searched for local ABA clinics, and he started full time a month later. Deacon has been in ABA therapy for 5 years (30 hours a week) and it’s unreal the changes his family has seen in him. He went from being a little boy who didn’t acknowledge anyone was in the room with him, being completely nonverbal, and not understanding a word people said to the kid he is today. He is extremely affectionate, verbal, and is learning to read. Deacon’s passion is with all things home cooling: air conditioners and ceiling fans! He goes on daily walks with his family where he can name every a/c unit from the sidewalk and tell you what unit the upcoming house has before anyone else can see it. His family’s hope is to one day find Deacon a position with an a/c company as a mechanic. Deacon enjoys watching videos on air conditioning repairs on YouTube. He also loves the cartoon Umizoomi. Deacon is a vibrant, happy kid. Deacon’s joy for life transmits wherever he takes his smile and that sparkle in his eyes.
Daniel’s unforgettable smile lights up the room and the hearts of his beloved family. Daniel is an energetic five year old who was diagnosed with ASD at age four. Daniel and his family began their Autism journey in September 2016. This past year has been both difficult and rewarding for Daniel’s loved ones with trying to understand autism, the challenges that Daniel would face, and better understanding Daniel. Daniel had a stroke in the womb while his mother was pregnant with him. Then, he had two more strokes in August 2015 and August 2016. After extensive testing, it was revealed that Daniel had short term memory loss and some cognitive delays. It is not known if this was caused by the strokes, his autism, or a combination of both. Daniel’s ability to retain information is a slow process. However, Daniel has learned to sign for his basic needs like: eat, drink, bathroom, shoes, open, help, and all done. He is now learning his colors and animals. He has passed all of his goals set by his physical therapist and has been discharged from it. With the help of occupational and speech therapies, Daniel is learning self care and sign language. Daniel is great with imitation and learning new things. Daniel loves books, puzzles, cars, and music. He loves playing outside, but he prefers to play independently. He loves to run and play by himself. Daniel is also a very sympathetic person that cares about others. It is unknown if it’s the crying noise that bothers him or if he truly is upset by the other person’s sadness. Regardless, he tries to calm that person down. Daniel is very independent and doesn’t like to ask for help. He likes to figure things out for himself, even if it takes hours. Daniel is a happy, fun-loving little guy who adores his family.
Kayra is a remarkable young lady with a beautiful spirit. Kayra is nine years old. She is highly intelligent and has a kind heart of gold. She loves being in the great outdoors. Playing soccer is what Kayra is most passionate about. She has played soccer ever since she was 4 years old. A true inspiration, Kayra has participated in the Special Olympics 2 years in a row. She competes with the Alvin ISD Track team. She has improved incredibly since she was initially diagnosed with ASD. Even though her autism can make fine motor skills challenging for her, Kayra has overcome that by learning how to type and write. She has also learned how to read. When she’s not out conquering the soccer world, Kayra’s favorite pastimes are dancing and running. She loves dancing to music with her mom, dad, and little sister, Krysta. Kayra also loves watching movies. Pancakes are Kayra’s favorite food. She enjoys it when she gets to have a nice pancake breakfast with her family on the weekends. Kayra is a huge source of joy in her family’s life.
Gavin is a brilliant, fun-loving five year old. He was three years old when he was diagnosed with Autism and Cerebral Palsy. As they proceeded to do more testing, Gavin had an MRI scan of his brain done. The results of the MRI showed that he had scar tissue. Gavin had BACH, ECI, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy at home until the age of three. After that, he attended the PPCD program part time at his local elementary school until the age of five. Now, Gavin is currently in the Life Skills class full time at his local elementary school. Gavin has auditory and communication barriers. However, he has been making awesome strides of improvement. There are times when Gavin will still hand and feet flap when he’s happy while playing his games, but it is becoming less frequent. He has completely overcome the urge to spin toys in his hands as well. Gavin will self harm when he’s upset and turn into a fight or flight response daily.He is working well on using more words to express himself though. In his free time, Gavin loves to go out for ice cream with his family. He loves colors, shapes, and numbers on his iPad as well. Gavin has a strong support system thanks to his loving family. They have been his strongest advocates.
Alex, age eight, is a happy, active kid who loves his family very much. He was diagnosed with Autism at seven years old. He’s come very far in the last year. Both his teachers and family members have seen a maturity develop in Alex with the way he handles meltdowns. Rather than being physical towards himself and others with his emotions and sensory outbursts, Alex has become more verbal. He’s learned to use his words to let others know how he feels if he’s upset, bothered, or annoyed by someone. In those moments, Alex will ask the other person to leave him alone or not to talk to him. Alex is intelligent and exceptionally good in math. His teachers are very pleased with his progress. His favorite pastime is gaming. He loves Sonic the hedgehog and Crash the bandicoot. Alex is also a very fast runner. At school and home, we will allow him to run and up down for a few minutes to release frustration or built up energy when he’s feeling overwhelmed. Alex’s family is so pleased to see how much he has already improved. He is their pride and joy.
So, what does Autism look like? It looks like unconditional love and support from loved ones. It looks like long, emotional days at times, but most importantly, it’s accepting different instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s their families loving every minute they have with their beautiful autistic children and knowing they are all doing the best they can. These amazing children are different, not less. They each have radiant souls that not even the most beautiful words could describe. The sheer strength and determination these children possess helps them overcome obstacles daily. In moments when their strength runs out though, they have amazing parents and grandparents to lift them up, advocate for them, and fight for their children to succeed. Autism is everything Au-some and exhausting, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Written by: Ashlee Viesca