Autism doesn’t stop boy’s smile

Rockdale family learning to live life with son’s incurable disease
By MARIE BAKKEN Reporter Staff Writer
The day after their son Mason’s second birthday, Justin and Amy Fatheree was told by a family member that their son might have something wrong with him.

Justin and Amy Fatheree were in denial when their son Mason was diagnosed with autisum at 27- months-old, but they have educated themselves on the condition and are devoted to making a better life for the four-year-old. Reporter/Marie Bakken Justin and Amy Fatheree were in denial when their son Mason was diagnosed with autisum at 27- months-old, but they have educated themselves on the condition and are devoted to making a better life for the four-year-old. Reporter/Marie Bakken Justin’s mom Freda noticed some changes in her young grandson, but thought Justin and Amy would be upset with her, so she had someone else mention it to the young parents. The concern for worry proved to be right as on July 28, 2006 Mason was diagnosed as being autistic.

Loss of communication

Autism is a part of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that effects one’s neurosystem and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. According to the Autism Awareness website, www.worldautismawarenessday. org, there are more noted cases of autism in the world than of pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

Mason does not communicate well verbally, but has begun to use some sign language to show what he wants. Above, his smile says it all as he enjoys some play time. Mason does not communicate well verbally, but has begun to use some sign language to show what he wants. Above, his smile says it all as he enjoys some play time. The disorder disrupts a person’s communication abilities, impairing their speech and ability to relate to others. It is also more likely to strike boys than girls and seems to develop at around 18-months of age, as was the case with little Mason.

His parents said it was a sudden change in their son that made them wonder as well. Mason had been sick with a double-ear infection that lasted several months and was on medicine for the infection as well. The Fatherees had just moved into their Highland Avenue home in Rockdale about that time too, so there was a lot of change in their lives.

What really made the Fatherees decided to ask their pediatrician about a possible behavior disorder was Mason’s “loss of milestones.”

“He interacted and gestured with you and was speaking a few words when he was younger,” Amy said. Mason was also displaying other autistic characteristics like f lapping his hands and running on his toes.


Both admit being in denial for about six months after they received the diagnosis.

“We never would have thought autism,” Amy said. “We just kept saying there’s nothing wrong. At 18 months, it was just so sudden.”

Mason just got worse and started looking drugged and made no eye contact.

Justin said he had no anger toward his family because they knew it was a possibility that something was wrong with Mason. “I never thought anything that severe,” he said.

There are no effective means to prevent autism, no single effective treatment and no known cure.


The Autism Awareness site also states that research indicates that early behavioral intervention for at least two years during the preschool years can result in significant improvements in IQ and language ability for many young children with autism spectrum disorders. As soon as autism is diagnosed, behavioral intervention should begin.

Once diagnosed it was determined for Mason’s non-verbal communication due to autism, that he needed at least 40 hours of therapy a week. Due to insurance issues, the Fatherees were unable to get that much help for their son, as some therapist for autism run $75 per hour.

The Fatherees really struggled with the insurance for the much needed Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for Mason.

“After crying on the phone, they basically told me ‘no’ for the final time,” Amy said. It was a hard time for them. She is a stay at home mom and Justin works for Veolia and works out-of-town a lot.

“I got off the phone and said ‘Lord, I want to take care of my son’,” Amy said. No more than a minute later the Fatheree’s phone rang with Kendra Hairston, an ABA therapist on the other end. She agreed to see Mason five days a week for an hour to an hour and a half at her Temple home for just $30 an hour. The Fatherees saw it as a huge blessing.

Through therapy Mason has began to make eye contact, uses some sign language to communicate and is even doing well with potty training.


Some other side effects that increase when autistic are allergies and gastrointestinal problems. Mason is taking supplements to help his body absorb the nutrients from his food, according to Amy. He is also on a non-gluten diet.

He started the diet over a year ago and Amy saw results in about two weeks, very uncommon.

“It can take up to six months to see results,” the 30-year-old mother said. The gluten-free diet has become very popular in those with autism.

Autistic patients’ immune system is on “overload” so their bodies have a hard time telling the difference of how to break down nutrients, minerals and vitamins and the extra sugar and carbohydrates that come in regular processed food. The all natural foods and supplements are easier on their systems.

“Eighty percent on the spectrum benefit from the diet,” Amy said. The Fatherees even have to watch for gluten in Mason’s soaps, toothpaste and sunblock.

Get Educated

Amy attends meetings with A+ Support Group in Belton to share things with other parents and learn more herself. She and Justin have also attended conventions on autism in Houston and Austin.

“Going to one convention can shoot you off into so many different types of research,” Justin said. “There’s stuff you can take home and places you can look.”

The Fatherees believe that the more you know the better things will be.

“To all parents, the number one priority is to educate yourself,” Amy said. “Get online, read books, because one book could lead to all these other resources.”

School days

Amy and Justin were “terrified” to send Mason to school, but Jessica Skrhak made the transition easy and eased their concerns. She was a school mate of Justin.

Mason started school in January at Rockdale Elementary in a Pre-School Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) class. The class, that offers therapy for its students, has been offered at RISD for some time, but has been taught the last five years by Skrhak.

“Our PPCD program is setup like our Pre-K program–we provide a half-day program in the mornings Monday through Friday from 7:50 to 10:50 a.m.,” Skrhak said. “We focus on developing each child’s individual communication skills, social skills, gross/fine motor, self-help and cognitive/academic skills through the use of various evidence-based methodologies.”

There are currently five PPCD students at Rockdale Elementary with various disabilities–not just Autism.

Small steps

Justin and Amy’s hopes for Mason include his being able to communicate with them and him back, whether by speaking or signing.

“He gets frustrated if he can’t get stuff across,” Justin said.

His signing had to be prompted. The first time he signed was for his Daddy to go jump, that’s bounce Mason on a small trampoline in the youngster’s play room.

“It was precious,” Amy recalled. “He knew what he wanted and looked Justin right in the face and signed.”

That was a small step in hopes of many more leaps to come for Mason.


The following “red flags” may indicate that a child is at risk and should be screened to ensure that he/she is on the right developmental path. If your baby shows any of these signs, please ask your pediatrician or family practitioner for an immediate evaluation:

• No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter.

• No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter.

• No babbling by 12 months.

• No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months.

• No words by 16 months.

• No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months.

• No response when the child’s name is called by 10 months.

• Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age.


Did you know...

• Approximately 67 million people worldwide are affected by autism.

• Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the world.

• More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined.

• Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism.

• There is no medical detection or cure for autism, but early diagnosis and intervention improve outcomes.

April is designated as Autism

Awareness Month.

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