How Autism Changed My Life
A mother helps others by helping her son.
by Laura Corby as told to Genetta Adair
I’m not the same person I was eight years ago. That’s when my son with autism, Chad, was born. Although my husband, Wayne, and I had already experienced an autism spectrum disorder with our firstborn, Lexi, we hadn’t realized it yet at that time.
Lexi was diagnosed with a milder form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, but her symptoms didn’t show up until she was around seven years old. Chad’s experiences were so severe that doctors sent him to specialists who diagnosed him with autism at eighteen months.
Chad had severe colic and slept little at night — both common with autism spectrum babies. He seemed to be sick all the time, with constant respiratory and ear infections — also common. When he didn’t speak and seemed to not hear, Wayne and I knew something was wrong.
Learning about autism
One out of every one hundred and fifty children are diagnosed with autism in the United States. It is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s communication and social abilities. Symptoms may include a resistance to cuddling or touching, poor language skills, little or no response to others, little or no eye contact, or repetitive actions like spinning.
I read every book about autism I could get my hands on — almost a hundred in a short time and sometimes a book a day. I learned that few people truly understand the nuances of autism and how to deal with it.
After much research, I learned of government agencies that could provide early intervention services to help Chad, but I realized I would have to petition the government to receive the help Chad needed. I discovered that there are limited resources to help those with autism and that the cost of getting help is out of reach for most families. Setting aside my fears, I determined to help my son.
Journey of trust
Doing this presented a challenge. I had spent my whole life paralyzed by what others thought of me. I had been a non-confrontational people-pleaser, and a huge part of that had to do with poor self-esteem. By seeking help for Chad, I began to realize that this paralysis reflected a lack of trust in God. Helping Chad became a journey of trust.
When I was forced to contend for my son’s health services, I felt tempted to comply with government agencies. They offered only limited services and didn’t provide what Chad needed. I struggled to stand up to them, yet I believed God told me to stand firm.
I researched more and wrote a letter, documenting Chad’s resource needs. The more I trusted God and walked on this journey with Him, the more I could do the right thing. It was freeing!
I studied and graduated from the Partners Policymaking Leadership Institute, a division of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. The institute provides parents of children with disabilities with information on disability policy issues and helps them become advocates for themselves and for others. At the same time, I continued my extensive research regarding autism.
Then God led me to open a non-profit facility to address autism-related issues for others.
As founder and CEO of the Autism Solution Center, Inc. (ASC), I am working hard to make sure every individual with autism has access to appropriate interventions, regardless of their ability to pay. We provide treatment, education, and assistance at no cost to individuals who might not otherwise have access to care. A typical office visit with an autism biomedical specialist will average between $2,500 and $3,000. Most people can’t afford that. ASC is dedicated to providing resources and assistance at no cost.
In the last five years, ASC has served over 1,300 families. I ran ASC in my home in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2004 the center moved into an office building.
Although everyone associated with ASC (including my staff of specialists) donates his or her services, financial support has been a major complication. ASC has conducted numerous fundraising campaigns, sought sponsors, and has become a United Way charity choice, but we still struggle financially from month to month. I remind myself that this is God’s program, though, and not mine. He always meets our needs.
Nothing else worldwide does all that ASC does. We are the only facility to address all the autism-related issues in the same location: advocacy, biomedical treatment, family support, a lending library, spiritual help, training seminars, and workshops. Contrary to popular belief, autism is treatable. The goal of ASC is to make assistance available to everyone in need. A child’s future shouldn’t be dependant on whether or not his parents are broke.
ASC was chosen as the 2008 Autism Treatment Center of the Year by Age of Autism and is recognized internationally for its training and support to families dealing with autism. People call from as far away as Venezuela and even Australia. ASC has also helped Hurricane Katrina victims like Lori Lindsey. Her family lost everything, including the sensory equipment and dietary and biomedical supplies for her six-year-old autistic son, Jackson.
When Lori’s family evacuated to Corinth, Mississippi, she met Jessica Owings and her four-year-old autistic twins. Jessica led Lori to ASC, a two-hour drive from Corinth. One of our ASC physicians examined Jackson, and ASC provided all the training, supplies, and support Lori needed to begin her son’s therapy again.
“Finding the Autism Solution Center was such a blessing,” Lori said. “We went in, knowing our insurance didn’t cover their services. Yet there was no charge.”
A changed person
Today, my children are mainstreamed into classroom settings with above-average test scores and are indistinguishable from their peers. Therapy and medical intervention have greatly affected their ability to function well in society.
This whole experience with autism has been an exercise in my relationship with God. He has ordained my steps. He has made me an incredibly different person and so changed my relationship with Christ. If I could start again and choose whether to have a child with autism, I wouldn’t change a thing.