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Living with Autism

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I wanted to share a health story with you about autism.

By: Karen Stokes

In 2000, my 3 year old son, Elijah was diagnosed with autism. In retrospect, I guess I realized something was wrong because after he met the typical milestones for a child, at 2 years old he lost his vocabulary, he lost his interest in playing with his brother and other children and he seemed to be living in a world of his own.

Where do we go from here?

Young people today face many challenges, especially ones with Autism. According to Autism Speaks, autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 are boys. These numbers are growing. Autism is a cognitive disorder that impairs social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and also can bring about repetitive behaviors. As of now, there is no cure, but there are outlets and information that parents and caregivers can utilize. 

 

Research suggests that sports, exercise and physical activity can be useful to improve symptoms and quality of life.

Physical activity is important for all people with or without autism. In July 2013, the Center For Disease Control and Prevention found 18 percent of youth 12-19 are overweight. These numbers are higher among members of the autism community. Thirty six percent are either overweight or at risk. The risk is sometimes due to lack of exercise or medications that cause fatigue or weight shift.

Lack of physical activity has long term health problems including diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

The more activities my son is involved in, I have seen improvements in his symptoms, his behavior and general quality of life. He attends summer camp and weekend recreation through Milwaukee Public Schools Therapeutic Recreation. He gets the opportunity to swim, hike and play sports. Next month, Elijah will start training in Taekwondo. Some research has found that Taekwondo encourages confidence in individuals with autism and some knowledge of self-defense, if needed, is a bonus. 

He is also involved in the Miracle League, a baseball league for youth with disabilities. James Lundstrom, Youth Development Coordinator /Miracle League director states, “The Miracle League believes everyone deserves a chance to play baseball. The league allows all children to play organized baseball regardless of ability. Kids with special needs dress in uniforms, make plays on the field and round the bases just like their peers in standard little leagues. Not only do we give players the physical experience of playing baseball but we also give a platform for all players to form friendships and bonds with teammates and volunteers”. 

Because of the difficulty kids with autism have with social interactions, it's a challenge for many of them to make friends. The Miracle League is a wonderful social outlet. There are also winter activities for people with special needs from ages 6-21 which include basketball and bowling. For more information, call James at 414-357-2833.

Autistic individuals sometimes have difficulties playing team sports, but seem to excel in individual sports like running, swimming and martial arts. This has less to do with athletic ability but with social skills.

Through research, I found that early intervention is very important.  There are many good in-home therapy providers. This helped Elijah a lot. I also discovered that a school with a good program for students with autism is a necessity. As a parent I had to be my son’s main advocate but I was fortunate to have some great therapists, teachers, doctors and family members who assist me. I am also fortunate to live in Milwaukee. According to a 2011 survey conducted by Autism Speaks, Milwaukee is one of the top ten cities for educational, medical and recreational resources for people with autism, along with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, northern New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston. There are helpful resources and funding available here including, the Milwaukee Center for Independence, Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin, Athletes 4 Autism and United Cerebral Palsy Respite Care Program to name a few. There are many more resources, for children and adults who age out of typical child related resources.

Autistic people enjoy things that any other person enjoys. Elijah, who is now 16, loves to cook. He makes fabulous brownies and his favorite restaurant is Famous Dave’s. He loves playing video games, playing baseball and basketball, going to Milwaukee Bucks games and music. He has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Tupac to the Beatles.

Family members need to keep learning and finding ways to keep those living with autism involved in activities that pique their interests and allows them to interact with others and the community. I am intimately aware of the highs and lows of having a special needs person in my life, but with all the challenges I face, it is the most rewarding relationship in my life.

 

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Eric Von is a former radio talk show host and a publisher of Brain Brawn & Body (brainbrawnbody.com). You can contact Eric at eric.von@brainbrawnbody.com.

Comments

  • Guest
    LouAnn Thursday, 20 February 2014

    It's great that your son is so involved with sports and activities. I have kids with autism in my classroom every year, but never any with so many physical and social activities. It would be good for them too.

  • Guest
    Christopher Johnson Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    Thank you for writing an article on autism.

  • Guest
    Eric Von Wednesday, 05 March 2014

    LouAnn, Chris and others, I have to tell you that while it appears that I penned the article on Autism, it was not I who wrote it. It was Karen Stokes, Elijah's mother. I thank her for her openness with offering this very personal story.

    I thank you both for taking the time to read it and comment on it. And LouAnn, I wish you and the children in your classroom the best as you deal with this condition daily.

    Because we don't have a photo of Mrs. Stokes, we were unable to place her image next to her story. But this is her and her son Elijah's story. Hats off to them!

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