Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Embracing Autism

"it's the journey" is posting for a Special Contributor in honor of Autism Awareness Month (April).
This is a glimpse in the life of another.  May each of us know... and help... and love.... along the way.

“Circle, CIRCLE!!” Four-year-old Rogi exclaims while frantically patting his mother’s hip. “Circle!” He is pointing to a box of round Waffles sitting on the counter.

“Say, ‘WAFFLE,’” his mom says, chuckling, while popping the waffle into the toaster. Rogi’s chants get louder while he waits for his breakfast to heat up. “Ciiiirrrrcle!”


A loud crash interrupts Rogi’s pleas. Mom turns around to find two-year-old Emi wailing at a spilled DVD collection on the floor. He picks them up one-by-one between his frustrated sobs and stacks all twenty movies up for the third time, making sure his tower is straight and perfect. His six-year-old sister, Lily, sits nearby, oblivious to the commotion, fixating on a repeating video of singing chipmunks on You-Tube. Welcome to a day in the life of Carmen, a single mother of three children with Autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 out of every 150 American children - a 172% increase since 1990. Origins of ASD remain debatable, but it is thought by most scientists to be genetic. It is the third most common developmental disability and affects more children than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and childhood cancer. With Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI), however, there is much promise for the future of these kids. These programs, when implemented at an early age, have been proven to greatly improve skill deficits and problem behaviors.

Rogi and Emi are both thriving with the help of EIBI programs. When Emi began his Early Start program last August, he had almost no eye-contact with his therapists, was constantly banging his head against walls and floors, and his tantrums lasted hours at a time. Now, less than a year later, Emi is giving kisses, saying words like “good-bye,” “apple” and “jump,” and scoring 100% on matching lessons. His tantrums are down to an average of 3 minutes long and the head-banging is gone.

Rogi finally began talking last year with the help of intense vocal imitation lessons and is scoring high in all areas of his program. He is now fully potty-trained and enjoys singing, watching movies, and has taken an interest in Dinosaurs. He knows numbers 1-12, all of his colors, and is getting ready for pre-school this summer. He has been in his EIBI program for 2 years.

Carmen and her daughter Lily

Lily is in Kindergarten and was denied an EIBI program by the school district. “There are things my 4-year-old knows that Lily does not,” says Carmen. Lily does not participate in school, cannot write in a straight line, and has trouble socializing with her peers. Getting her out the door in the morning is a daily struggle complete with tears and screaming. Carmen knows Lily would greatly benefit from an EIBI program, but the School District won’t budge.

In order to get Lily the education and therapy she needs, Carmen will have to come up with $1,200.00 for an assessment with an agency that is separate from the district. To raise the money, Carmen came up with a creative plan to make 1,000 Tamales to sell locally. She will do everything in her power to ensure money does not get in the way of her kids’ education. She has already given up having her own bedroom in order to provide Rogi and Emi with their own therapy rooms.

In honor of Autism Awareness Day beginning April 1st, please remember to wear blue in support of Carmen’s family and many like hers that are dealing with the financial, political, and emotional fight to provide therapy, education, and support for their kids.

footnote: find out more about Carmen's Homemade Tamale sale by emailing carmenstamales @

... and may God Bless the Journey....