April is Autism Awareness Month
The month of April has been designated as “Autism Awareness Month.” While it is now common knowledge that roughly 1 in every 100 American children is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, there is a dearth of statistics about, and services for, adults on the spectrum.
According to author and autism advocate Linda Davis, “Assuming that rate holds, by 2016, less than a decade from now, the number of American adults (those 22 and over) with autism is expected to be nearly 1.5 million.”
Autism affects many here in the Milam County area as well.
Minerva residents Ann-Marie and Joel Graham’s son Hunter, now an eighth grader at Rockdale Junior High, was diagnosed with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome when in Kindergarten.
“From the day Hunter was born, we knew he was different. He didn’t cry or babble. He would not look at us when we were feeding him. Sometimes he would not respond to us unless he was looking at us,” Ann-Marie said. “Hunter would line up his toys and spin around them for hours...He ran around on his tip toes all the time. He never spoke, but would point and grunt at the things he wanted.”
The Grahams took Hunter to the doctor thinking he might be deaf.
“The doctors did all these tests and told us he was normal. They also said we were overreacting because we were first time parents and didn’t know about babies,” Ann-Marie said. “When we moved to Minerva in 2001 we enrolled Hunter in day care. The staff at the day care was concerned because Hunter didn’t play with the other kids and he didn’t talk.
The young child would have massive tantrums and then get up like nothing happened. Staff members also suspected Hunter might be Autistic.
After more tests and trips to the doctors, none could give them the right answers on how to help Hunter.
By the time Hunter was to start Kindergarten the Graham’s still had no answers. Then about three weeks before school started, Hunter started speaking and reading books to other kids at day care.
“ We were all f labbergasted. After five years of screaming, pointing and grunting our child was speaking to us,” Ann-Marie said. They met with Hunter’s Kindergarten teacher, Pam Ham mett and told her everything that had been happening over the last few months. She said she would watch him and let us know what she saw.
Within the first six weeks of school, Hammett had referred the family to Burleson-Milam Special Services. They are the special education cooperative that handles services for Rockdale ISD and surrounding areas.
“ They evaluated Hunter and came back with a diagnosis of Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. As I sat in that meeting, I started to cry,” Ann-Marie said. “The co-op psychiatrist thought I was upset about the Autism diagnosis. I told her, no, I was just happy to know what was going on with Hunter and to finally have an answer.”
Graham understood the need for others to have a place to go to where they weren’t alone and helped start the Special Needs Support Group here in Milam County.
The Special Needs Support Group meets every third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the New Jerusalem Church. This group provides support and information for families and friends of disabled people and people who are interested in learning more about disabilities.
The group has bake sale fundraisers to make money for its annual events. This year will be the fourth annual Fun Day at Wolf Park in Rockdale.
“We always invite people from surrounding areas, teachers and the MARC Center. RHS student council and PALS members help out with the games and entertainment,” Graham said. “Everything is free and we provide food, goodies, games, a bounce house and entertainment for the kids and their families. Sometimes our special needs children get left out of fun events so that is why this annual event got started.”
The group also has an annual Christmas Party at the Patterson Civic Center at Fair Park in Rockdale. Food, entertainment and Santa are provided free to special needs children and their families. The third annual Special Needs Christmas Party will be held in 2012. For more information on these two events, please contact Denitra Rideaux at 512- 446-4910.