April is Autism Awareness Month and to honor the awareness of autism, WMDSF Magazine interviewed Tammie S. Williams.
Our SuperMom of the Month Tammie Williams, 31, from Elmont, NY; is a loving mother to her son CJ.
CJ who is a beautiful 10 year old boy with Autism, conquers milestone over milestone everyday.
Check out the interview with WMDSF’s CEO Melanie Butcher and Tammie Williams
Q: What is Autism?
According to the Center for Disease and Control; “autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are groups of developmental disabilities (/ncbddd/dd/) that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people”. “ASDs affects an estimated 1in 80 and 1 in 240, with an average of 1 in 110, children in the United States have an ASD”. Autism causes disruption in families and unfulfilled lives for many children. Neurologist and researchers in the field are studying the early signs of Autism in children; to create awareness for parents about the symptoms associated with Autism at an early age; which will help parents learn the signs and symptoms of autism in order to get the right diagnoses for treatment and to institute early intervention.
Autism Speaks is a phenomenal organization of health care professionals and advocates educating parents about the early signs and symptoms of Autism. Autism Speaks also provides resources to parents about treatments and early intervention programs. The early warning signs of Autism parents should be aware of in their children are; no joyful expressions by age 6 months, has trouble keeping eye contact, does not babble by 12 months, loss of speech or social skills at any age, language delayed or sleeping problems. Further information provided by Autism Speaks, states that autism symptoms are sensitivity to sound, communication difficulties, self-stimulatory behaviors, compulsive organization, and intellectual obsessions. Intense sensitivity to sound is a common autism symptom. For example, a normal child goes out into his or her environment and can handle a car honking or a fire truck passing by with the sirens going off. But a child with autism may scream, freeze, cry or breakdown. Things in the environment can be too loud for a child with sound sensitivity issues. Intense sensitivity to sound can also be associated with Sensory Integration Disorder. The following signs for Sensory Integration Disorder are; overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights or sounds, coordination problems, activity level unusually high, delays in speech, or delays in motor skills.
Lack of communication and speech delay is another sign of autism. But this doesn’t indicate a lack of intelligence. Instead, many children with autism simply can’t discern how language works. That can be terribly difficult and isolating. The development of language is very important at an early age not only to establish communication, but literacy as well. There are two major speech areas of the brain; the “motor” speech area (Broca’s area) and the “comprehension” speech area (Wernicke’s area), which is located on the left hemisphere. (Helligi, J). Children’s first words typically are tied to the contexts in which they appear. Between 10-20 months children use words and phrases in social interactions in contexts such as “hi” and “bye-bye” responding to routine naming activities such as “what’s that?” when looking at picture books; in reference to events such as saying “car’ as one passes by; and in attaching words to general action schemes, such as commenting on their own actions as they act upon objects, for example “all gone,” “mine,” “here,” and “open up”, if a child is not demonstrating the above examples. Parents should be aware of language and speech delay in their children so that they can begin language and speech delay therapy as part of early intervention (Helligi, J). Another symptom of autism is self-stimulatory behaviors. For example, a child with autism might flap their hands, echo phrases, make noises, and walk in circles. Sometimes, these autism symptoms can be self injurious, like head banging. Parents should pay attention to their children for shows signs of compulsive organizations. An example of compulsive organization is a child building cans one on top of the other. Another example would be a child organizing all of the shoes by the front door, to be lined up a certain way or if a child doesn’t like to be messy and is washing his or her hands constantly. Parents also need to be aware of intellectual obsessions. Intellectual obsessions are another common autism symptom; for example a child may have exhaustive and staggering knowledge of a particular subject to outsiders, these interests can seem baffling, such as math. According to the CDC, “ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to serve. Finally, people with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.” Understanding autism spectrum disorder types, signs, symptoms, are imperative for parents to cope with them. Also it sets a plan of action for early diagnosis for treatment and therapies.
_______________________________________________________________________________ Milla, MG and Mulas F. Early Attention and Specific Intervention Programs with Autism Spectrum. U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Web. 15 Jul. 2010 Fombonne, E. “Prevalence of Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.” Autism, 2002; 6(2): 149-157. Web. 16 Jul. 2010 Volkmar RM and Rutter M. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: Results of the DSM-IV autism Field trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1995; 34: 1092-1095. Print. Hellig, J. “Hemisphere Asymmetry: What’s right and what’s left?” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print. United States. National Institute of Mental Health.
United States. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism Spectrum Disorders-NCBDDD. Autism Speaks. The Autism Research Institute.
Q: What were the signs/symptoms that lead you to believe your child may have Autism?
My mother noticed that my son was not speaking appropriately for his age. I took him to a specialist to figure out what could be the cause. A child psychologist said he may have autism. I did not know what autism was. I was in denial and wrote it off as a “speech/language delay”. My son began receiving early intervention at home. At 2 1/2 years-old I enrolled him into pre-school; where he continued receiving speech/occupational therapies.
Q: When was your son first diagnosed with Autism? Age?
It was not until he turned 7 years-old that I noticed more developmental delays. His school social worker and psychologist advised me to see a neurologist. April 21st, 2009 my heart sank and I was no longer in denial. He was diagnosed with having autism.
Q: What were your feelings? Thoughts?
My son being diagnosed with autism was a turning point for me. I went online and began researching as much information as possible. I learned that other parents were struggling to find resources as well. I created a bi-weekly email resource newsletter geared to parents/caregivers caring for children with special needs. The email newsletter includes workshops, support groups, and new legislation. I wanted to help more families, so I decided to go back to school and major in Community/Human Services.
Q: Did you get the answers you needed from your doctor?
I was given a pamphlet on autism, but not information about resources in my community.
Q: Was your doctor quick to diagnose your son with Autism or did he/she try to examine other causes for behavior or symptoms?
Yes, the neurologist diagnosed my son from the minute he walked into her office.
Q: How did the news of his diagnose alter your life/lifestyle?
Autism awareness has thought me that there is discrimination against children and adults with limited abilities in the area of education, jobs, and housing.
Q: Did your family give you the needed support or were they uncertain how to react? Did they treat you or your son differently?
My family and friends have and always will be supportive. They do not treat my son any different than they do other children.
Q: How is it different raising a child with Autism than a child without it? Walk us through a typical day
All children require love and attention from their parents. A child with special needs requires a little more of your time, love, and patience. Teaching a child with Autism…is teaching at his/or own pace. My son CJ is very set in his daily routine. If his routine changes slightly without notice; he can breakdown and become aggressive. For example, if his school serves soup and grill cheese sandwich during the school year, but doesn’t serve soup during the summer…CJ will bug out…why?…because the school served the grill cheese sandwich without the soup. CJ is used to getting both at the same time. The slightest change can cause a meltdown.
Q: Does your son have to attend a particular school?
No, he attends public school, but he is in an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) program in his school, which is a self-contained environment. He has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that caters to his learning abilities. The ABA program has helped him with his speech and daily living skills. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is behavioral training and management. Behavioral training and management uses positive reinforcement self-help, and social skills training to improve behavior and communication. Schools apply ABA in the classroom as well as a behavioral contract between teacher and student. For example, if a child does well in all structural activities for the day; the teacher will give a positive reinforcement at the end of the school day. Specialized therapies such as speech, language, occupational, and physical therapies are offered through private institutions. Parents should be aware that these services are not free for school-based children, but up until the age of 3 years-old the state pays for early intervention programs. Parents should be aware of the expenses associated with therapy and consult their health insurance carriers of regulations. On a positive note, many states are regulating health insurance companies to write provisions for the cost of specialized therapies and include them in health plans. Another type of early intervention is speech and language therapy.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your son?
The affection he gives me every day.
Q: What makes him smile?
My son loves music and play time. He has a memory like an elephant. He can remember the lyrics to a song after listening to it once.
Q: How has his progress been since the day of diagnoses until now?
He started off with no language and now he can’t be quiet.
Q: For those who don’t understand Autism, what would you like them to know?
We all learn differently and the key is acceptance and patience.
Q: If you had to give a new mom advice on raising an autistic child what would that be?
Knowledge is power; read as much as you can about autism and be informed about the wonderful results early invention can offer your child. Raising a child with autism is challenging and very stressful. Every day is a test of patience and dedication.
WMDSF would like to personally thank Tammie Williams for being the Super Mom that she is and for taking time out of her already busy schedule to share her story with us. Also a special thank you to CJ!