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Perseverance, prayers serve as guide through autisms trials

My son, Daniel, at 17 months of age could feed himself and played with toys. He looked at people and acted just like a regular baby.

But everything started to change after his 18-month vaccinations. He stopped looking at people. He stopped eating by himself and playing with toys. He started flapping his hands repetitively.

We knew there was something wrong, but it wasn’t until we received a diagnosis when Daniel was 2 years old that we knew our lives had changed. The diagnosis? Autism.

Dealing with autism has been a long, hard road for everyone in the family, hardest of all for Daniel. There has been progress over the years, but it has taken long hours and countless repetitions and therapy after therapy for every skill he has been able to master.

For example, it took Daniel until he was 5 years old to learn how to eat with a spoon. This involved hand over hand, prompt after prompt during every mealtime. It took him until he was 8 to get trip-trained on the toilet.

Daniel has a severe case of autism and we have endured many screaming, crying attacks and self-injury over the years, including his self-inflicted biting injuries.

Still, there are times when he smiles or sits on my lap, wrapping his arms around me, that it really hits home how he has been worth all of the extra effort.

We’ve seen some light through the darkness, including improvements in his ability to learn, his initiative to express his wants through a variety of sign language skills and, once in a while, verbal language.

Daniel is mostly a nonverbal communicator, but every day, when least expected, he says a few words out loud. I have longed to have long conversations with my son, to get in that mind of his and to know why he screams and bites at his wrist.

Autism awareness is symbolized by a puzzle piece, which makes perfect sense to me considering the way Daniel’s mind works is a puzzle to me.

People with autism are reputed to have socialization problems, but Daniel is affectionate toward my husband and me. He has relearned how to play with us and, like many children without behavioral disorders, has discovered how to get his way. His innate intelligence is showing.

He prays, he hums along with songs on the radio, and I have hope for the fine man he’ll turn out to be.

I’m sure he’ll continue to make progress as the school special education instructors, therapists and his family work with him.

Daniel has come a long way from the hand-flapping child who ignored everyone. If you have a child with autism, progress is possible, no matter how severe the case or how desperate you might feel.

But it’s not easy. Each mastered skill will take dedication and repetition on your part. God bless you and your family as you embark on the search for the missing puzzle piece. Keep praying, keep hope alive and dwell on your child’s progress, not the setbacks.

Dawn Britton is the Spotlight’s advertising sales representative. She also contributes an occasional column and is the author of “Daniel’s Story: A Christian mother searches for a cure for autism,” which is available on Amazon.

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