If you've followed our blog at all, you know we do an annual post about autism for 2 reasons: my first job out of college involved working as a teacher at the New England Center for Children, a school for children with autism, and now that I'm a parent, I've seen, first-hand, the prevalence of autism, so I'm passionate about increasing awareness.
For this post, we reached out to a friend whose daughter has autism, asking if he'd be willing to share about the following: When did you first suspect that Zoe had Autism? What did you do? What are your favorite activities that you and Zoe enjoy?
Eric - Thank you for sharing so candidly.
"20 months went by, and it all felt normal. Zoe and I were thick as thieves and I loved spoiling her. I couldn't help myself. She loved swings, she loved being held by daddy and boy did she like to eat (daddy's girl for sure!) We thought everything was fine...I think about it constantly, did I miss the signs earlier? I don't know...but it still haunts me as early intervention is crucial with young kids on the spectrum. As the months went by we started noticing a couple of things leading up to her 2nd birthday that started to concern us. Anytime she would pick up a new word or skill, she would lose something she already knew. She was a bit slow in walking and when she did start to walk she would walk on her toes. She seemed to fixate on certain objects...I think my wife and I both had read enough about autism that we were starting to see some red flags. We decided to take her to a developmental pediatrician...I think we both hoped that the doctor would call us paranoid and tell us we were imagining things...that's not how things worked out. "Your daughter is on the spectrum of autism..." It felt like a vacuum had sucked all the air out of the world. It was devastating. My flashes forward on that day were darker and in a quiet moment alone I cried until there were no more tears. Would there be a father-daughter dance now, how do I protect her from this, she does not deserve this...I was sad, I was angry, but most of all I was afraid. Afraid is the unknown, afraid I would never get to know the girl inside of Zoe, afraid autism would take her away from me."January 23, 2011, in the middle of one of the biggest snowstorms NYC had ever seen, I held in my arms the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on, my daughter, Zoe. It was love at first sight. I was smitten and I was never going to let her go. It's weird, I distinctly remember sitting in that hospital room with this little nugget beside me, flashing forward to her wedding day and wondering what our father-daughter dance would be like, and how bittersweet it would be for me. Less than 24 hours in the world and I was already feeling territorial haha.
There was a short grieving process and then Heidi and I went to work. We weren't going to let this diagnosis take her away from us. We went about getting Zoe all the tools she would need to reach her full potential. We secured district support to enroll Zoe at REED Academy, we hired speech therapists and private ABA therapists. We threw all our resources at trying to improve Zoe's quality of life. She's sharp as tacks...she just learns differently and she has to fight through a cacophony of sensory input that I will never fully grasp just to simply focus. I'll never truly understand her struggle, but she is a fighter and she comes from a family of fighters and we are making progress thanks to hard work dedication and a strong support system of friends and the folks at REED.
Zoe is 5 now...she's the same kid really. Happy disposition, loves a good adrenaline rush, loves to eat. We love to be outside together, love to sneak cupcakes and ice cream when we are not supposed to but mostly we love to just be together. We are inseparable. We have a special connection...and while she may not say the words all the time, she doesn't need to. She loves her daddy and daddy will always love her to the moon and back." - Eric Chung
This year, Eric is trying to raise $20,000 for the Go the Distance for Autism charity ride. He will be doing 25 miles. Please consider joining Team Zoe as a rider or a "virtual rider" by clicking this link http://www.gtd4autism.org/
My first full-time job after graduating from college, was at a school for children with autism. As a 22-year-old, I didn't know much about autism and actually thought it was a rare occurrence. I had a lot less perspective than I do now. Now that I’m a parent, I'm around more families, so not only do I encounter more children with autism, but a good friend of ours has a daughter who was recently diagnosed with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. (http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html) As parents, we celebrate so many of our children’s milestones with Facebook posts, photos, detailed entries in baby books, and phone calls to loved ones. Imagine if your child were late in reaching these milestones. Life as a parent is so fast-paced, and we love our children so much, that I can see how signs of autism may go unnoticed. What strikes me most about autism is the fact that the characteristic behaviors of autism may or may not be apparent in infancy, but usually become obvious during early childhood. Although there are many “late bloomers” and children develop on extremely different timelines, it’s important to visit your doctor often and watch for signs/behaviors listed below.
As part of a well-baby/well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your baby’s progress.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
Any of these five “red flags” does not mean your child has autism.
But because the symptoms of the disorder vary so much, a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team.
This team may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professionals knowledgeable about autism. (http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/symptoms/) This week we are doing our small part to spread the word about Autism by sharing this information and donating a portion of sales from lollaland.com to Team Zoe. We encourage you to support Team Zoe (directly or through lollaland.com) or any Autism-related organization/cause before the month ends.
My first job after graduating from college was as a teacher in a residential school for children with autism. I was a young, bright-eyed college graduate, who thought she would make a major impact on childrens' lives through this job. The job impacted me much more than I impacted those children, I'm sure, and that year was one of the most challenging and eye-opening years of my life.
When I learned that April 2, 2012 is World Autism Awareness Day, I just had to blog about it. I was shocked to read that the prevalence of autism has now climbed to a staggering 1 in 88 children in the U.S. Autism is essentially an epidemic at this point. It is one of those disorders that is so perplexing to me. I remember watching a touching documentary that profiled families who have children with autism. The most striking part of the documentary was when a mother tearfully described the moment she felt her son "slip away." She described her perfect baby boy hitting all his milestones and suddenly, at age 3, simply turning off - Her son no longer made eye contact, virtually stopped speaking, and entered an "other" world of repetition and seclusion.
If you or someone you know has a child with autism, please think of him/her today. If anything, take a moment to familiarize yourself with Autism. I like the website, AutismSpeaks.org.