So yes, it's important and noteworthy that I'm running for Crestwood Ward 2 Alderman and the election is tomorrow, so I'm sure it would make sense to write about that experience and try to get a few more votes, but that just isn't the big news of the day for me.
The Autism Speaks 'Light It Up Blue' campaign is.
More than 23,600 people and institutions from all over the world, including the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, the Cairo Tower in Egypt, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Paris Stock Exchange Building, and closer to home, Crestwood Elementary and the house light of yours truly, have pledged to 'Light It Up Blue' today, April 2, to shine a light on Autism.
A study released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, by age 9; and the worst part, is that we don't yet know WHY this is happening. These numbers are even more disturbing if you break them out by gender, because Autism is far more predominant in boys. Only 1 in 252 girls will be diagnosed based on these numbers, but 1 in 54 boys will.
One of those boys is my son Joey. Joey is seven years old, born only 14 months after our twins, and he was our big, healthy, easy baby. He was outgoing, and bright, hit all his milestones. Gregarious, funny, easy going and photogenic he was the child every parent wishes for. Then, at about 20 months, he stopped making eye contact with us. He was still a happy guy, but his speech backslid and he wasn't even saying Mama or Dada. Our doctor assured us that it was just that his brothers, only 14 months older than he is, were 'talking for him', pulling the attention away from him. But I suspected there was something else going on.
When Joey was two and a half a Missouri First Steps rep visiting our home picked up on it, too. All I can say is thank heavens for First Steps. This is a program that will have my support forever. It allowed us to get Joey diagnosed at an early age, and start intervention therapy before he even turned three. I truly believe this has made a huge difference. He still isn't much of a talker, but he's social, and makes decent eye contact, and he's starting to talk more and more. He's also great with computers, a whiz at math, and a little more of a creative problem solver than is good for my, and my husbands, peace of mind.
As a parent of a child with Autism, it's hard to not know what the future holds for your child. Not that any of us really know this for any of our kids, but at least with a healthy child you can have a reasonable set of expectations. When Autism enters the picture everything goes up for grabs. Will he be able to care for himself, support himself? Will he ever have a family of his own? Will he be ridiculed, teased, bullied? Will he be able to have a 'normal' life?
I can't speak highly enough of the teachers and staff at Crestwood Elementary School. The whole crew of teachers in the ABA classroom are totally committed to getting Joey the best education and life outcome possible. The school administration works closely with the Special School District to not only put each child in the least restrictive environment, but also to educate the other kids about Autism and other challenges that kids there face. They teach understanding and acceptance. Sometimes it seems that every child at Crestwood knows Joey by name, they smile at him, walk up to us in public and say hi, and sometimes, most of the time, he smiles and says 'Hi' back. So at least parts of the world are becoming better places for these 'special needs' kids, and that's a good thing.
But just two weeks ago I was introduced to an older lady at a local restaurant by a mutual friend. She used to be school teacher and she asked me, 'Are you sure he has Autism? Are you sure that Autism is even real?' Wow, that was an eye opener. Yes on both counts.
So what can we do? I think the absolute best thing that we can do for these kids is educate the people around us about what Autism is, and isn't. Turn these numbers into KIDS, real people that have faces and names. And, of course, 'Light It Up Blue'