UW Sunday Column – Autism Awareness: Step into my shoes and walk beside me

Patterson photo-smOur journey with Autism started with our son, Quinn. He was diagnosed at 18 months old with severe autism and his doctor told us that he would never speak and not to expect too much for his future. As parents, we were just glad to receive a diagnosis which allowed us a better understanding of how to help him.

We were determined to prove that doctor wrong, but how? We started attending a support group, hosted by The Autism Society of Central Illinois (ASCI), which guided us in the right direction and gave us mental support as we started to face this world, which now included autism.

Autism is a developmental disability of the brain. Often my son is in another place, his own place, which seems to be a never ending daydream. We tried repetitively to direct him to fit into our world, but we had to find a way to fit into his. It was hard in the beginning and we felt lost; however, the experiences and opportunities we’ve had throughout the years has propelled him into the 14 year old that he is today, which is a young man that is blessed to see no bad in this world. He is thriving and has passed every limit anyone has put on him, including us.

Our son was twelve when our daughter, Roslyn, was born. I watched to make sure every milestone was being met only to quickly realize that our blue eyed girl wasn’t communicating with us. We thought to ourselves “this couldn’t be happening again, right?” and we were wrong. She was diagnosed shortly after her second birthday. We left that appointment and I immediately started crying in the elevator. My son asked me “Why are you crying”. I told him that his sister was more like him than I had thought and that she had autism as well. He said to me, “well, duh mom, I knew it all along”. Like any parent with a child that has a disability, we worry about their life after us and Quinn reassured me that he would take care of Roslyn. There is no certainty about what programs will be available to help children and adults with autism in the future and that is frightening to us. Hopefully, one day the ASCI will be able to offer adult services; however, their current programming is limited as their income relies entirely on donations and sponsors to provide their current services for families in the surrounding communities.

It is our calling to share with the world what autism can offer. Watching my children face challenges daily, is what inspires me to keep taking steps forward to be their voice for them. It doesn’t take a special parent to raise and teach a child, it takes a special child to raise and teach a parent. I was blessed with two gifts! April is Autism Awareness Month and this month symbolizes hope. Hope, that our community will “Take a Step” to help families like mine.

The ASCI is a non-profit 501c3 organization that does not receive any government funds. The ASCI is made up of an all volunteer board of professionals and parents that donate their time and efforts so that our children can enjoy normal activities like their peers; such as sensory friendly movies, skating and swimming. They hold Camp Aspire each summer to help kids on the spectrum improve their communication and social skills. The group hosts Easter, Halloween, and a Santa “Meet and Greet” parties at Noll Medical Pavilion. They provide grants to families like mine when we needed assistance with my daughter’s behavioral therapy expenses.
I hope that you will join me in supporting the ASCI by attending and/or donating to the 2016 “Take a Step for Autism” Walk held on April 30, 2016 at Southwind Park in Springfield. For more information, you can visit www.autismcil.org. Donations can be made on the website or mailed to ASCI P.O. Box 8781, Springfield, IL 62791. Every cent is another opportunity.

Natalie Patterson is the parent of a child with Autism. Learn more about United Way at www.springfieldunitedway.org Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.