April is Autism Awareness Month!
When you think about the many syndromes, disorders and illnesses that can impact an individual, you begin to appreciate the accomplishment of having this level of focus placed on autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism has garnered this recognition and support because of the incredible hard work and advocacy of families and professionals who live, work and love individuals on the spectrum.
Of course, we also know that autism is now one of the most prevalent disorders, occurring in 1 out of every 68 children. So it isn’t only a personal experience, but a national crisis that cannot be ignored. We who are on the front lines with autism need to pursue every bit of recognition, research, funding, education, treatment and support possible to help to help our loved ones meet their greatest potential.
My son, Sam, who has autism, is turning 32 years old this month. Fitting that it is Autism Awareness Month! What a journey we have been on thus far – and we continue on as he and I grow older. We have had many wonderful, inspiring people and experiences in our life directly related to autism. One special person was Sam’s first speech therapist, Priscilla. She worked with Sam two hours a day, five days a week from the time he was two years old until he was 5 years old. She loved Sam and came up with many creative strategies that were cutting edge for the 1980’s. She happened to understand behavior strategies so that was a great plus.
Then my mom took Sam for one full weekend a month for many years so I could have some down time and concentrate on my daughter, Rose. Family can be such a blessing when they understand your needs.
I also drew great support and strength from involvement with the Dallas Autism Society, serving on that board for many years before moving to Collin County. In Collin County, I had the privilege of serving with the local chapter for several years as well. To this day, some of my current closest friends were fellow board members. In the 1990’s I served on the Texas Council for Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders for 5 years. Through these experiences I learned so much about what Texas provided. I also learned that Texas falls far behind in providing education and support for individuals with disabilities. I am very thankful for the hard work of families and the many advocacy organizations within our state who work tirelessly for better services.
My son was quite challenging when he was young. I worked hard with the school district to have Sam included. I believed strongly that he needed to be around same age typically developing peers a good part of the day. He needed the models and they needed to become comfortable with him. The districted needed to learn more inclusion strategies. Sam was a groundbreaker in his district because, due to our advocacy, he was the first child on the spectrum to get sensory integration therapy and music therapy. An added bonus, of course, was that many other children benefitted from the district personnel receiving additional training in these areas.
We had some hard times, as well. When Sam was 9 years old we filed for due process to insure that he would continue to be included for large parts of the day. For him that meant art, computer, PE, and the resource room. It was a painful battle, but thankfully we won. I would say this helped Sam get a much better education throughout the remainder of his time in public school.
Now Sam lives in a group home in Plano with three other young men. They have been together for a few years now and there is a real family feel in their home. These services are funded by HCS, a Medicaid Waiver program. The housemates enjoy lots of activities in the community. Sam has a part time volunteer position at a local church. He also makes dog biscuits for the SPCA and maintains a vegetable garden. He makes pickles for everyone to enjoy! Sam also likes visiting the SPCA to help with cleaning the kennels. He goes to dances, bowling, the gym and karaoke. Sam regularly attends church at the Heights Baptist Church in Richardson. Obviously, Sam enjoys a full life in the community. I will say it requires my ongoing involvement, both financially and time-wise. But it is well worth the investment!
Of course, I see Sam regularly! He comes for overnight visits at least twice a month. He and I enjoy taking drives in the country, cooking, and looking at photographs together. Needless to say, Sam is a real joy! I truly believe we can read each other’s minds! We have spent enough time together!
My son, and autism, have shaped my life. Major events always change the direction of a person’s life. I have learned compassion, patience, and developed a deeper faith in God because of Sam. He changed my career path as well. I was inspired to become a speech-language pathologist because of Sam and this vocation has been perfect for me. And I always hope that my life experiences will help me be a better therapist for those I serve and a better support for families.
So, I celebrate the progress we have made in 32 years. My prayer is that we will someday have a cure! But until that happens, I will still be advocating for, and deeply loving, my wonderful son, Sam.
Anne Bramlett, SLP, CCC/SLP
Anne Bramlett opened Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas in 2004. Her practice has clinics in East Plano, Frisco, and McKinney. Speech & Occupational Therapy serves children with all types of speech, language, sensory, and motor challenges. Since ASD is so prevalent, Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas treats many children on the autism spectrum.