By: Desmonae Lloyd
Knowing that something is different about your child is one thing, but finding out what it is can change your life forever. This is what happened to Ms. Lindy McCollum a fifth-grade teacher for Math and Science at Hardin Valley Elementary in Knox County of Knoxville, Tennessee. Her 6-year-old son Braylen is thriving now but they both had a long journey to get where they are today.
Autism cannot officially be diagnosed at an early age. Despite previous concerns at his 12-month checkup, speech services recommended by a doctor at 15 months, and TEIS (Therapeutic Early Intervention Services) until age 3, Braylen still couldn’t be effectively diagnosed until he was 4 with Autism due to the type of testing needed to confirm his condition through the Cherokee Health system.
Autism is defined as a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. Ms. McCollum, decided to strengthen his weakness, that other children do not normally have, by doing research on any way that she could help her son, but first she went through various stages considering the news of her son’s diagnosis. She went through a grieving stage, where she had to learn to accept that Braylen could not do what other children his age could do.
In addition, she went through the anger stage where she wanted to know why her son had to have Autism; followed by a stage of blame where she put the blame on herself because he had Autism wondering if she had done something different then maybe he wouldn’t have Autism, even though she knew she did everything correct throughout her pregnancy. Finally she begin to feel a sense of pride, Braylen had Autism, that’s a fact and it wasn’t going away. She realized that he could touch more lives and give a new outlook on not only her life, but also any person that he came in contact with. Braylen has consistently adapted to learn new things in different ways and because of that Ms. McCollum has been fascinated seeing his accomplishments first hand.
Ms. McCollum immediately went into survival mode as any parent would when they finally get the confirmation on their child’s diagnosis. With her having a background in special education courses for her degree she utilized her old textbooks. She decided to get training through Knox County to serve children with Autism or those who needed help communicating, due to Braylen still being non-verbal. Braylen’s speech therapist and occupational therapist gave her tips in addition to all other resources she had utilized at this time. Throughout Braylen’s life Ms. McCollum has continued to connect with parent who’s children also have Autism or speech problems.
During this journey Ms. McCollum has learned that with Autism there isn't one simple way to neither describe a child with Autism nor meet the needs of one with Autism. Each child is different while they may share some of the same qualities. You are constantly learning and continuing research to be sure that you are doing everything possible to help your child excel in life. I was able to ask Ms. McCollum further questions about her experience with Braylen and some that would help other parents/guardians who have children with Autism.
Dealing with children on a daily basis does this make it easier to deal with your own? Dealing with other children on a daily basis doesn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with my own. If anything, having my son helps me with working with other children. With my son having Autism, it has taught me a lot that I am able to carry into my classroom.
What advice would you give to parents that have Autistic children? If I were to give any advice to parents that have a child with Autism, it is for them to know that they aren't alone. We all go through every single emotion that one may feel when having a child with Autism, and we need to know that there are others who go through the same things. It is important to find a community or support group of parents who have children with Autism. It’s important that we lean on each other in those low moments and those high moments. We can get those moments more often from each other as parents because of the connection we share.
What is something interesting that you want people to know about children with Autism? There is a quote that says, "If you've met one child with Autism, you've met one child with Autism." This is so true. Every child is different. You have to truly take the time to get to know each child individually to build a relationship with it.
Is it true that keeping an Autistic child on a schedule is the best option for fewer outbreaks? Having a child on a daily schedule is a great way to eliminate some of those moments that may trigger a meltdown. It certainly is not the answer to avoiding them completely, but there is success of knowing what to expect. Having a schedule also allows an avenue to help them adapt to change when you are able to give them enough of an idea through their schedule that something is going to be different than their normal schedule.
For more ways to learn about Autism and resources to help your child or loved one in your area visit https://www.autismspeaks.org.
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