Raising awareness about autism

Photos and story by Mhari Shaw

Bedtime routines commence around 7:30 p.m. at the Millet household. Allison, husband Rodgie and son Ross participate in 10-year-old Owens nightly routine. For children with autism, routine holds an important meaning in daily life.

Owen was diagnosed with autism last year. At 10 years old, he is non-verbal and is enrolled in therapy.

Owen Millet 10, poses for a photo.

Allison Millet said she has been finding ways to deal with the recent diagnosis.

“If you would have asked me if I thought that he would still be non verbal and we would be getting all this therapy, I would have said no because I know that I am a fixer and my husband is a fixer and that we were going to fix it,” said Allison.

Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month. All over the country events and organizations raise awareness for this growing diagnosis.

Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life, according to autism-society.org.

One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30 percent increase from 1 in 88 two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. There is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences, according to autismspeaks.org

According to autismspeaks.org, possible signs of autism at any age includes avoiding eye contact and the preference of being alone, the child struggles with understanding other people’s feelings, they can repeat words or gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings.

A Community Affected

Many families are affected by this disorder.

Drew Humphries was diagnosed with Autism when he was 3 years old. Drew is now 10 years old and has recently graduated from the Big Red School therapy program.

According to his mother, Libby, no symptoms were present until the ago of 2 when Drew became obsessed with certain objects. That is when she decided that he needed to be observed.

“We started therapy when he was so young, I know that they have done him a world of good. He loves people and he loves to do stuff, so therapy has definitely helped in the social aspect. There are just parts of Drew that I know will always be on that spectrum and 50 hours a week of therapy is not going to change that so I try to keep his life as normal as I can,” said Libby.

In Bowling Green many organizations recognize Autism Awareness month and hold events.

There are many programs provided for kids with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Michelle P. Waiver is a home- and community-based waiver program of the Kentucky Medicaid program developed as an alternative to institutional care for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The waiver allows individuals to remain in their homes with services and supports, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Other therapy options in Bowling Green include the Big Red School, VSA arts of Kentucky, Kelly Autism Program (KAP) and private doctors.

Sarah Herron is a classroom teacher’s assistant at the Big Red School. Herron has worked at the school for three years. According to Herron the school provides hands-on experiences with kids with mental disabilities.

“I had always wanted to work with kids, but kids with special needs just have a place in my heart. They have a very positive outlook on things and are very determined. Each child has specific needs and in typical schooling they don’t tend to get the correct kind of teaching. Teaching them has really taught me patience,” said Herron.

The Big Red School is located on WKU’s campus and strives to advance the development and learning potential of young children of all abilities through developmentally appropriate early childhood services, according to their purpose listed in their parent handbook.

The Big Red School is one of many organizations that holds events for the community. Some of these events include family fun day and Griffs Deli day.

Griffs Deli Day, raises awareness for Autism. Ericka Orndorff gives the children instructions before serving the food.

Joda Bullington, mother to Marlow Maddox, who was diagnosed with autism, says that the Big Red School has been crucial to Marlow’s development.

“The Big Red School has been a huge help, they are one of my biggest and greatest resources. They help me figure out how me and my husband can adjust our behavior to better suit Marlow and what is reasonable to expect from a child with autism,” said Bullington.

It’s hard for children with autism, because they do not look like they have a disability however, a lot of people are quick to judge children’s’ behavior because they do not know that the child has this particular disorder, according to Bullington.

The goal of Autism Awareness Month is to provide a sense of understanding for people who are not directly effected by this disorder or for those who might not understand the diagnosis, according to autism-speaks.org.

As the bed time routine comes to an end in the Millet household, Allison kisses her son on the forehead, turns the lights off and closes the door.

“Having a child with autism is nothing that you can prepare for,” said Allison.

She said there are good days and bad days.

“It has taken me a few years to understand that there is nothing to fix, when I have learned to work more in Owens world than trying to make Owen fit in our world it goes a lot better and you know I wouldn’t change our life,” said Allison.

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