Autism in Our Midst

By Jill Grubb

April 15, 2014

Have you seen a child swinging on a swing with almost desperate focus, rocking madly, tapping repeatedly on any surface, banging her head against a wall and screaming, letting out sharp noises, humming softly to herself, wearing diapers in elementary school, not making eye contact, needing more personal space, or solving math problems at great speed? Any one of these children could be autistic.

Some are born with autism. Others develop autism suddenly for no apparent reason. One little girl in Morrow County was five when a seizure erased all her skills and left her screaming all the time, not needing sleep. Her family went with only one hour of sleep a night for two years until, recognizing the crisis, they were granted a waiver to receive some services. Still, they have $5,000/month in medical bills.

Another couple received a call twenty months after a girl in Vancouver, Washington, claimed she had had their son’s child. She wanted them to come get her little girl. The child had been removed from her home because of severe neglect. Kept in a child’s car carrier 24/7 for her first six months and then transferred to a crib in a darkened room for months more, the little girl had gray skin, hollowed eyes, and diaper rash from her waist to her knees. Having had only powdered milk, the foster parents fed her Pediasure when she was diagnosed with failure to thrive. She couldn’t make eye contact and didn’t want to be touched. It took foster parents nine months to heal the diaper rash, although the child remains scarred, physically and mentally.

Miranda’s grandparents Mike and Sonja Hoffer have had her for almost three years now. It took three months for her to make eye contact. At Children’s Hospital, where she was evaluated, the doctors said it was not genetic but due to environment. Medicaid paid for speech, occupational, and physical therapy at school.

At first Miranda would scream and beat her head against a wall. Sonja would leap to put her hand behind Miranda’s head to stop her from wounding herself. Then she got a rocking chair so Miranda could rock safely. Many autistic children do repetitive actions, obsessively. At first her grandparents got her a trampoline for her endless energy and then found a bouncy ball with a handle on which she can bounce.

In the pre school at Whetstone, teacher Barb and Karen and Heather were great in the classroom. They put a rocking chair in the circle so she could participate. Miranda loves to paint. She sings “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and even pretends to play it on the piano. Next year she’ll enter kindergarten in a regular school. Already she knows her alphabet and numbers to ten and partially potty trained herself.

Mike, her grandfather, said it took a while to break into her space. Perhaps that’s because the other grandmother, a drug addict, said she almost had to break her teeth to get her to eat. For a long time Miranda didn’t want anyone touching her mouth or getting close, but now she hugs with such softness and strength. Once never showing emotions, she now will say, “Ow,” and hold up her cheek for a kiss. The Hoffers have now adopted her and are making up for the lack of sunshine in her early life.

By voting for the Morrow County DD levy, we can help put sunshine in more lives by making early intervention available.