By Kelly Carr
“When someone meets Jack, at first glance you may never know that he has any problems. It just depends on the type of day he is having. If he is having a good day, he will be the sweetest little boy, laughing with his brothers and sister, having lots of fun, and telling jokes. If it is a bad day he may be whining, crying, or appear upset. It is hard because there are no physical features that let people know someone has autism.
“Most people think that all kids with autism don’t speak, but just like a lot of other disorders, there are varying degrees of autism. Jack has no problem talking, but he does have some major meltdowns if he wants something and doesn’t understand why he can’t have it or if there is a lot of noise, too many people, or too much chaos.
“Autism is a social disorder, so we are trying to teach Jack how to function socially even when he doesn’t want to or understand how. I have been at the store and Jack wants something and I say no. He throws a fit and screams—then people look at me like my kid is spoiled. I’m trying to teach a lesson, but they are judging me and staring. I have learned that I have to ignore other people’s thoughts and stares and continue to teach a lesson.
“Jack was diagnosed with autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) because at age 3 he was not talking, but he could do things like solve puzzles that were way beyond his age. With speech therapy, by age 3-and-a-half he was talking a lot more, and by the time he was almost 4 he was starting to read. But he could not handle any loud noises, and if he wanted something he would start screaming. After he was diagnosed we were also able to get him into occupational therapy. This fall Jack will be entering the third grade, and he still takes speech and occupational therapy at school to help him with social skills. He is doing advanced math and reading, and he interacts well with his peers. He still has some problems with noises, such as fire drills. Early intervention has been the key to helping Jack succeed in school and life.
“My husband and I are very involved with the children’s ministry at our church. During the children’s service, Jack does not like to go in at first because of the loud music. He sits outside the door during music time and goes in for the story. Most of the teachers know this and accommodate him well. It is the little things that help him have a good experience and love going to church every Sunday.
“We now have more children coming to our church with special needs. I think it is good to mainstream whenever possible, but we also need to support our teachers and have somewhere for children with special needs to go if they are having a bad day or are unable to stay in their regular classroom. As a parent, it is important that we feel our kids are safe and are with people who know how to interact with them properly. I teach preschool at our church also, and I believe that educating our teachers and staff is very important.
“I saw a parent whose child was recently diagnosed with autism coming down the hallway in our children’s wing. She saw a sign that said Special Needs Room and immediately had a smile on her face. She rarely gets a break, so this was a place where she could leave her child without worry and be able to worship.
“God has given me a special job to train this special boy to love God with his whole heart and teach him how to tell others how to love God also. We pray every night with our kids before they go to bed, and there is nothing like hearing Jack end his prayer, ‘God I love you and in your precious and holy name, Amen.’ In the end this is worth all the hours of speech and occupational therapy, the stares of strangers, and the meltdowns just to hear those precious words.”