Autism Awareness: Putting the Pieces Together

April 19, 2016

As the past GFWC North Dakota State President, my platform was “Autism Awareness, Putting the Pieces Together.” Those puzzle pieces being diagnosis, acceptance, and therapy. My grandson Collin was diagnosed with autism at the age of almost three, when his mother Stephanie was going to college.

Stephanie happened to be taking classes for special needs education and was studying the subject. Though the family knew there was something different about Collin, we couldn’t quite put our finger on what it was. When the college professor was going over the signs of autism, everything seemed to fit with what was going on with Collin. Stephanie discussed Collin’s behaviors with her college professor who put her in touch with the resources that would further assist her. One of the resources was Easter Seals, a GFWC Home Life Community Service Program Partner.

After Collin was diagnosed by a neurologist, the family had to accept he was not going to be the little boy that we had once envisioned. We began to accept him for who he was and provided the therapy Collin needed to make the most of his life. Collin started occupational and physical therapy as well as speech therapy, though he was and still is nonverbal. He first learned to communicate with sign language, which our family also learned, then went on to message boards, and currently uses an iPod. Enhancing his communication has made Collin more content and better able to function in the outside world.

Collin still becomes highly stimulated and does not handle a lot of activity around him, making it hard to attend public and family functions. This is where Easter Seals Respite Care is of service. Being a caregiver is emotionally and physically exhausting. It places a major strain on the wellbeing of the autistic child’s parents often affecting their health and marriage. Easter Seals Respite Care is “care for the caregiver.” It gives the caregivers a chance to refresh and recharge so they are able to once again take on their responsibilities. This is important for keeping autistic children out of institutional or foster care for a longer time, allowing them to stay with their family and community.

Collin is now 14 and mainstreamed into the 8th grade of his middle school. His teachers and peers have assisted him with his schooling both academically and emotionally. His classmate have befriended him and include him in their activities. Collin is well known in our community and is involved with Riding for Dreams Horse Therapy, Special Olympics bowling, and swimming. Collin finds these activities enjoyable and they improve both his emotional and physical wellbeing. While the road is not smooth, it is the road we have been set upon and the one we must travel.

As awareness and acceptance have grown, the journey has become more bearable, and a lot of blessings have been found along the way. One blessing being the special Autism Ribbon Pins my local GFWC Lisbon Mothers Club made. The ribbons were sold or given away to promote Autism Awareness. Many are still being worn by my GFWC Sisters and friends today. It is through this awareness and support that autism is finally being acknowledged and accepted. Let’s continue putting the pieces together.

by Connie Radcliffe, Past GFWC North Dakota State President


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