Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April is Autism Awareness Month

You will probably be hearing a lot about autism this month, as April is autism awareness month. Autism is very personal to me. My precious, sweet son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. As a mom, I feel a responsibility to be part of spreading awareness about autism whenever I can.

If you don't know what autism is, here ya' go. Autism is a neurobiological disorder. Today, it effects 1 in 150 children/individuals and is four times more common in boys than girls. Autism effects one's communication, social skills, and self-help skills. All children that are diagnosed with autism are different, which makes treatment somewhat difficult and frustrating, as what works for one child to improve may not work for another. Autism is now at epidemic proportions. If you don't know someone personally, whether in your family, at your church, or a friend, I fear that you will soon with such staggering numbers. There is no "cure" for autism, but children are being recovered and improved with intensive therapy intervention and biomedical treatments.

For my family, Evan was diagnosed at age three, although we suspected he might have autism around 12-15 months. The first clues for us was that he didn't look at us when we called his name and he really didn't have any words. We initially thought he had a hearing problem, and when his hearing checked normal, we entered this frightening world of autism. I had no i
dea at the time what autism was really. To be honest, we received his diagnosis and was told to get him in speech therapy, but that was pretty much it. We were on our own. You are handed no manual for this diagnosis. Everything we have done to treat Evan's autism has been through our own diligence and research. It was such a frightening time. We felt so lost. We immediately got Evan into speech therapy and then into a therapeutic preschool. Occupational therapy and physical therapy were also implemented. I can not stress the importance enough of early intervention for a child diagnosed with autism. It can make all the difference in their life and their future.

Evan has made extremely wonderful progress. His language is still delayed, but he is tal
king, which for any mom with a child with autism will tell you, it is a HUGE thing. He is very smart and has a cute little sense of humor. We feel he is ready for Kindergarten this fall, as he has a lot of Kindergarten skills already, knowing his alphabet, counting (even in Spanish), knowing colors, shapes, everything you would expect a child in Kindergarten to do. Evan also is extremely bright when it comes to the computer. He can maneuver around different windows, load up the computer, and get on the internet to his computer games all by himself. It amazes us all the time! I am anxious and excited about this transition to Kindergarten for him. I look forward to seeing what this new adventure will hold for him and us. I actually think he will do better than me! :)

With all this said, I wanted to post the warning signs for autism. This is from the Autism Speaks website. I think there may be someone out there that reads this and is wondering about their own child and doesn't know what to do next and this might help...

"Watch for the
Red Flags of Autism
(The following red flags may indicate a child is at risk for atypical development, and is in need of an immediate evaluation.)
In clinical terms, there are a few “absolute indicators,” often referred to as “red flags,” that indicate that a child should be evaluated. For a parent, these are the “red flags” that your child should be scre
ened 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
  • Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age"

My advice to anyone who thinks their child might be on the spectrum of autism would be "don't wait" and get them evaluated now! It will make all the difference. You can get a ton of good information from www.autismspeaks.org. I am pretty much an open book on this subject. I'm not an expert by any means, but if anyone wants to contact me privately, you can e-mail me at leighahorton@sbcglobal.net.

In closing, I wanted to ask you to join me in praying for a cure for autism. Autism Awareness Month is a perfect time to start. You can download a "Turning the Tide" prayer calendar here or if you could just remem
ber these precious children and their families in your regular prayer time, I would so appreciate it. If you want to pray specifically, here are names of Evan and some of his friends: Evan, Alex, Collin, Daniel, Bradley, Caleb, Tyler, Jonathan, JC, and Rachel.

It is so important for the awareness of autism to be widespread. I hope there is soon a cure, but in the meantime, my hope is that all of the young children and parents of those children that come behind us, don't feel the lost feeling we felt, that there will be more resources for them and some sort of guide on how to get help for their child. I do believe this can and will get better.

This journey has been a difficult one. My heart has been broken, but by the grace of God, He is carrying us through. I know in my heart that God had led us to Evan's wonderful school and the angels on earth as I call them (all his therapists) that work with him so diligently every day. God has also provided physicians that listen to us and are willing to help get Evan better and a network of friends that are going through the same thing we are. Evan is making progress! We are learning every day.

If you read this and take time to pray for my precious son and our family and all the other families out there affected by autism, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart!

Much love!

Evan, age 6


Derek said...

Leigh Ann,

Let me first say how blessed I am to have you as my wife. I want to thank you for all the dedication, research, and the long hours you have devoted to helping our Evan. He truly is a lucky young man to have you as a mom. I could not have made this journey without you to lean on. Thanks for being my best friend and wife.
I love you, Der

Kelly said...

Well - I came over to comment but first I read Derek's comment and it made me cry.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I have wanted so often to ask you about Evan but I didn't know if you wanted to talk about it or not. It has been on my heart SO MUCH MORE than you will ever know. I'm glad to hear he is doing so well. He is just a beautiful child!
Scott has a 5 year old cousin who was diagnosed last year with autism. It's a very hard journey and it's scary how common it is becoming.
Evan is very blessed to have ya'll as parents. And I know you are Very blessed to have him!

Michele said...

Oh - add me to the teary ones after reading your post and then your husband's comment. You are very blessed with a wonderful family!

Sarah said...

Oh, Leigh Ann! What a beautiful post. I have a feeling you just witnessed to more people than you probably can even imagine.

Thank you so much for posting this! You can convey so much with "realness" and compassion...this may not be an assignment you signed up for, but it is, undoubtedly, one you are more than equipped to do! Your kindness and easy way of relating to others is going to be (and HAS been) that life-line that so many parents are searching for when they need someone to talk to.

The therapist in me thanks you for stressing the importance of early intervention! It is such a HUGE factor in a child's prognosis. I would go on forever about this but I'm having trouble seeing through teary eyes after reading Derek's comment. You guys, all four of you, are a beautiful and inspirational family. Not just because of the strength you show, but because of the evident love you all have for one another.

Candy said...

Leigh Ann,
Thank you for sharing this! I don't even know you, but I feel like I do from this whole blog thing. Evan is such a sweetie and how blessed he is to have such a wonderful, loving, praying family. I did teach before I had Ella and I long term subbed for half of the year in a special ed preschool class. We had a little girl who had been adopted from Russia who is autistic. She is now in the first grade. I LOVED watching her during that time. It was so amazing to see her growth. She is still nonverbal, but such a sweetheart. Not long ago, our local paper did an article about her and all the experimental things her parents are trying. It really makes you not want to take the little things for granted.
I will keep Evan all the other kids that you mentioned in my prayers.

Angela said...

That was such a nice post. Thanks for sharing I'll be sure to pray for Evan. I love how positive you are. God gave Evan just the right Mommy and gave you just the right boy!

Megan L Hutchings said...

I too came over to comment but then read Derek's comment...the two of you are absolutely precious. I think you should consider writing a book! Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us bloggers. Being a new mom, I am so thankful that you opened up and helped me to be aware of signs. Evan is so blessed to have you as a mom!

Megan L Hutchings said...

Just printed my calendar!!!!

LOVE YOU A GOOGLE... said...

I agree with the previous comment.. you can Derek should write a book! When I think of a true commitment love that we all want and desire in our marriage the two of you are my first thought! Kind of like the movie, "The Notebook"! You guys are just so perfect! Evan could not have had a better mom and dad and trust me when I say the Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he blessed you with Evan! You guys are so blessed and such a true inspiration! I love you guys!

His Doorkeeper said...

Leigh Ann,
I too was so moved by Derek's words. What a wonderful family Evan's been given. He is such a beautiful child and I know God has a special purpose for his life. You have done the right thing to make others aware of autism and if it helps even one more struggling parent, you have been faithful.

I would be honored to pray for Evan and the teachers that work with him. All things are possible with God! We know that is truth! Bless you as you continue in your quest to do the best for Evan!

Lauryn said...

Leigh Ann,

You don't know me (I don't think anyway...) I found you through Jill's blog. It is nice to see another mom out there promoting Autism Awareness. I think you would enjoy reading Traci R's blog from my blog page. She also has a son with Autism. It's so great to hear that your little man is doing so well. Our son will be going to Kinder as well this fall and we are so proud of him and his progress. It has been a long road, and I too am a firm believer in early intervention! It is so enfuriating to hear how many pediatricians tell moms not to worry and that it is just a quirk or a late talker or whatever to discourage them from getting an eval. Then you finally get the eval and have to sit on a waiting list for a year or so for therapies. Mom's usually know best!!

Your husband had me in tears too. Sounds like you have a sweetheart!

I'll be praying for your Evan along with all of the other children who live in the dark world of autism.

Traci said...

Leigh Ann-
Thanks for commenting on my blog. Evan is adorable. It's good to know that he is doing so well. Your writing is so passionate and you say the things that I couldn't put into words but am thinking. Thank you for that! I also downloaded the prayer thrust for my family and friends! What a great idea!

I look forward to reading your blog and learning more.:)

The Holloway Family said...

Hello! I found your blog while I was "surfing". I just had to comment on this. My daughter has a speech delay. She starts speech therapy this week. They also think there is a possibility that she has sensory problems. Of course there is always a part of me that worries about autism, but she is now 2 and a half and the only sign that alligns with autism is the speech delay (her therapist and the early intervention contact do not believe she has autism). Of course I am getting her evaluated with an occupational therapist to check out further problems. I just wanted to let you know how uplifting it is to see your post, and see how well your son is doing. My little girl has been through a lot this past year (she got glasses, wore eye patches, then bifocals, and finally vision surgery), and they think that has a lot to do with her speech delay. I know we have a long road ahead of us, but it is nice to "meet" someone who is dealing in a similar situation.

Heather said...

I absolutely love this post and that picture of Evan is the cutest thing! He is absolutely precious and you are blessed. I will be praying specifically for your family in this area...I know God is all over it and He has you all in the palm of His hands. Praise Him for that!