Thirteen years ago, my life and my husband Russell’s life changed forever with the words, “Your son has autism.” These were words we had tried to prepare ourselves to hear, but hearing them from a psychologist stung.
Our Jackson, our first child, a beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes and curly blond hair had autism. Autism? Russell and I had read some about autism, but at the time we thought Jackson had a language delay. However, it soon became evident Jackson’s delays were greater than just a speech delay.
The emotions fluctuated from uncontrollable crying, to anger, to questioning why. We went to the internet researching autism, read numerous books, and became fearful of what the future held for Jackson, for us.
We decided that we could wallow in self-pity, but how would that help Jackson? We needed to pull ourselves together to help Jackson live to his full potential, whatever that potential might be.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain's normal development in the areas of social and communication skills. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because autism disorders effect those diagnosed in varying degrees, with difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention. Many individuals also suffer from seizures and gastrointestinal issues.
Just like one neurotypical child isn’t alike, no one child with autism is alike. If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen ONE person with autism. Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal but may learn to communicate using other means.
Research shows that early intervention services can significantly improve outcomes for children with autism and their families. Jackson began receiving services from Early Childhood Intervention when he was two. He has been in school since he was 3 as well as speech therapy. Jackson is now 16 and a 9th grader at Coronado High School.
His academic subjects are modified in a special education setting. He is mainstreamed in his electives and P.E. He loves school!
Jackson is fun! He is happy with a huge smile who is always ready to give big hugs. (We are working on teaching him that not everyone wants a hug.) His favorite sport is basketball, and he played on the state Special Olympics team. He also competes in several other Special Olympics sports and plays Challenger Baseball. He is an amazing swimmer and likes to snorkel. When he meets you, he will probably invite you on a Cruise to go snorkeling.
He is also very involved with the Burkhart Center for Autism and High Point Village. Jackson LOVES his youth group, Monterey Teen Ministry at Monterey Church of Christ. He participates in worship, youth retreats and really likes when the youth play dodge ball and go eat at McAlister’s Deli.
One of Jackson’s greatest qualities is that he doesn’t care if you live in a mansion or a one bedroom apartment (although he will memorize your house number) or whether you have the latest fashion or what kind of vehicle you drive (however, he would really like it if you drove a 2011 Mercury Grand Marquis-his latest obsession); Jackson sees beyond what society deems important.
Love and support from family, friends, teachers, therapists and our church family has been instrumental in helping us help Jackson. I can’t imagine where Jackson would be if he didn’t have this extraordinary extended support from so many.
I am not going to pretend it’s been easy. There have been hard times, and frustrating times. There are times Jackson has trouble communicating his emotions. Our youngest son expressed those hard times best when he said, “Sometimes I hate autism”. Yes, Tad, sometimes I hate autism too, but even through the hardest times, the autism diagnosis will never change the fact that Jackson is first of all our son, and Tad’s big brother, who happens to have autism. We will not let his diagnosis define him.
Early in Jackson’s diagnosis, people would express to me that, “God knew what he was doing when he gave us Jackson.” These words used to make me so angry. I wanted to yell back, “You’re just glad God didn’t give him to you.” I soon started to look at those words as a huge compliment; what was it about us that God entrusted this precious gift to us?
So, we choose to see the blessings Jackson’s diagnosis of autism has brought to our lives. We hope once you get to know Jackson, you will be blessed as well, and will learn to see not only individuals with autism but all individuals with special needs as people. “It’s not a disability. It’s a different ability!”
Here is Jackson as a baby.
This is why Jackson likes night football games. :)
Jackson and Stacy in Las Vegas before taking him to see Shania Twain for his 16th birthday. He loves her!!