The Mysterious World of Autism

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It affects more than 500,000 children yearly. Autism is a brain disorder that can affect the way a child behaves, thinks, communicates, and interacts with others.

There are a host of stereotypes, questions, and fears. We want to set the record straight and show families right here in Texoma who are dealing with the day-to-day effects. Here's Nicole Holt's in-depth look into The Mysterious World Of Autism.

“These kids are still kids, they just play by a different set of rules than everyone else.”

“We have great kids, and they speak volumes with their eyes. If we can get them to look at their eyes, instead of noticing that they are doing something different. If we can just get them to see her.”

Different is a word these parents have come to accept when describing their children. Joe Passanisi says, “Most of the time, people really don't understand.” People like you and me, who are in the outside world.

“It changed our lives and set a new level of challenges and opportunities for us to do.” The world of autism can only be described as a mysterious place. A startling 1 out of 166 children in the United States live there. Joe is a father or an autistic child. “It affects the way he socially interacts with others, his speech which limits the amount of friends and what he can do so we can accommodate him.”

Most autistic children are diagnosed between 2 and 4 years of age. For family members of an autistic child, the symptoms are far from common. “It’s the pitch that if you don't have a kid like this, then you don't know. Or maybe you should know?”

At first glance you never would have imagined they have autism. They interact with each other and verbally communicate. The definition of autism is too often a stereotype.

"It means the kid has a hard time communicating. You may have to have Disney speak or figure out my brain tickles, does that mean you are ticklish?"

Each of these children share the same diagnosis of autism, but each have a different symptom. Grace is socially inappropriate. Her father, Michael says, “We'll be going through the store, and she will want to shake hands with people or she'll want to talk and say hi to them.” Her sensory nerves are also far from normal.

For Jareck, his witty attitude and humorous character makes you laugh. His mother Anne says he doesn’t look like your average stereotypical autistic child. After 3 days of not being on medications he's a different child.

Tony’s still working on his verbal communication, but has made tremendous progress.

His family says “I don't believe Tony has autism. I believe Tony is autistic. There is a big difference there in terminology. I’m not looking for a way to cure Tony. I’m looking for a way to help his world get better. You don't try to cure someone that's a different color or has bad eyesight.

Joe is also autistic. He’s kind and sweet, pretty much like a teddy bear.

Part Two

For the Peterman family there is never an ordinary day. Grace was diagnosed with autism last spring. Now almost a year later, her whole family is having to adapt to Grace’s mysterious world. Her mother Cathy warns you never know what kind of mood she will be in. “We had a game plan to deal with the symptoms. She wasn't so much a mystery.”

But the journey to Grace's world wasn't a yellow brick road. “She was a very happy baby. In fact I have records from the doctors office that said she cooed and talked and did all of the normal stuff. When she was 9-10 months old, she started holding her breath till she'd pass out. That was really scary.”

While doctors told the Peterman family that was normal in some children, deep down they knew something was wrong.

“I think they thought I was like a typical first time parent. Who thought “oh they are walking.” But I had three kids. I knew what walking was. And she had stopped.”

Grace refused to verbally communicate. She'd developed sores on her tongue and her eyes. Cathy says, “So in the middle of all that, you start to deal with something is wrong. Something's seriously wrong.”

Everyone around the Peterman’s insisted they were paranoid. But they didn't give up. They took Grace to every therapist, doctor and specialist they could think of, but all were unable to pin point the problem.

“I took her to work with me one day. She went to slam the van door and stuck her hand in it. It bruised and bled , she didn't even cry. I had a friend who had a child with disabilities. She said there is something neurologically wrong. That’s when I knew.”

When a doctor finally diagnosed autism, it was shock and a sense of fear. But it also was a sign of relief. Cathy says, “When they were testing for stuff it was scary. I came to terms that Grace was Grace and we were just blessed to have her. And whatever it was we're just going to be thankful for the time we have with her.”

But autism is different than most diagnosis. That's why doctors had such a hard time pin pointing the problem; the symptoms are so wide spread.

If you have a certain number of criteria you are considered autistic. And in Grace’s case she’s socially inappropriate-- loving and caring for anyone she meets. But knowing when to touch and where touch is still a task at hand. As far sensory nerves, they're getting better. Her speech is still under developed, but her teachers and therapist are working hard to fix that as well.

Grace may live in a different, mysterious world, but she's dying to be apart of ours. She just needs a little help along the way. After all, how could you say no to a smile like this?

Part Three

Autism is such a simple word, for such a complicated world. But for every 1 in every 166 children, it’s a way of life.

Autism is a neurological development disorder that effects three major areas: communication, behavior and social interaction.

While the myth's and stereotypes are so wide spread, it's important to understand these kids are still kids. They just play by a different set of rules. Janis Square is a therapist at Texoma Medical Center. She says, “They are somewhere on that spectrum and can be labeled if they are this far on this side, they have Aspergers, they have poor social skills. They are typically very bright semi-functional, but then again, there is something a little wrong with them, very odd.

Autism means a child cannot effectively communicate with you. Janis says, “You may have to have “Disney speak” or figure out what the child means by “my brain tickles.” Does that mean you are ticklish? You may also, have to decipher what's trying to be communicated to you. Or they may not have language at all. You must be able to take in the language. Auditory Processing Disorder.”

Janice is also the mother of an autistic child. “I’ve been living with a son with autism for 10 years. He came home from the hospital a different child.”

Most children are diagnosed around the age of three. “They just came out recently with doctors to assess children twice before they turn 2. That's fantastic for Autism.

So what causes this spectrum disorder? “The cause of Autism is varying. There are so many studies, and thoughts, and ideas. Is it related to another disease like Rhetts or Fragile X? Or is it a whole other idea, is it just Autism? Are they having chemical poisoning."

The good news for parents of an autistic child, is that it is treatable. “It’s not curable it's treatable. I know some parents can say they've been able to cure their child's Autism with specific types of therapy. There are so many therapies out there.” Therapy is available, but not cheap. In fact we’re told most insurance companies only cover therapy sessions twice a week and that's not enough! For kids like Jereck, it's a good start.

“What we are doing is Vestibular Stimulation, which gets the inner ear system working. It gets the body talking to both halves of the brain. It helps him decipher where he is in relation to the earth. So is he going sideways is he standing up, helps with his protective reactions.”

“What we're trying to do is help them learn their system. To rewire their system. They can have the input coming in, take the information and pigeon hole it as it's necessary. Take what's important and respond on that information.”

While the mysterious world of Autism is so big, our children are so small. If they can adapt, why can't we?

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