The second part of my interview with Karen Nichols.
Wow! Thank you for sharing. I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.
1. What kinds of therapies have tried? Which ones do you feel have been successful and which ones haven’t? At school, my son uses visual aids to keep him focused. Each year, at his IEP, we make sure to let the teachers and ALL STAFF, from the lunch ladies, to the secretaries, to the custodians know that Matthew is Autistic, and he’s ok with it. He doesn’t like hugs, he doesn’t enjoy jokes, and if he is solitary, let him have his moment. Earlier in his education, he had “sensory diet”, which helped alot. We now have him enrolled in Band and Art, and this has very nicely taken place of his sensory diet. We give Matthew explicit instructions as to what to do if his day isn’t working out, and work very closely with his team to ensure that school is a positive environment for him.
Matthew loves to be scratched. We allowed his para-pro to scratch him during sensory diet on his arms, legs, and back. It soothes him and relaxes him. We still do this to this day. It eases him to sleep every night.
We talk to Matthew constantly about drug and alcohol use, since he is becoming closer to the age where peer pressure may involve such things. Autistic children are very “black and white” about rules, and, hopefully, we can keep him from substance abuse. I fear that if he were to use drugs or alcohol, we may lose him and his brilliant mind. We tried a gluten-free diet, and, because Matthew is such a picky eater, it failed miserably. He also has Sensory Integration Disorder, and eating foods that he doesn’t LOVE simply is torture to him.
2. (Hard one here) What is your opinion of vaccines? In Matthew’s case, I don’t believe that vaccinations had any role in his Autism. He was a different child from the start. I believe that Matthew’s Autism is genetic. However, I did not and will not have my children vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, I don’t trust it. I think that there truly may be a connection between vaccinations and Autism, and I believe that we should all have a choice in this matter.
3. Are there any therapies that you absolutely would not try with your son and why? I will not medicate my son. He is Autistic, and that’s never going to change. Matthew is a Human Being with Autism, and we are not raising a child. We are raising an Adult Human Being with Autism. He may do things differently, he may act differently, but, truly, what is “normal”? My husband and I are delighted with our Autistic Son, and wouldn’t want him any other way. Matthew tells people, “I have Awesome-Tism. It makes me really great at math” Medicating him and taking away his Autism would be a handicap. When he becomes an adult, he will need to understand and live with his Autism.
4. What kind of support system do you have?(Once or twice a year, my parents will take my kids for the weekend and my husband is great for taking the kids and giving me time to myself) Matthew spends part of his summer break with his Nana and Papa in Arkansas, and he looks forward to this every year. His biological father has him every other weekend, and they have big adventures together. I have surrounded my family with a team of professionals who adore and understand my son, as well as my friends and family. I can pick up a phone and have someone to talk to at any time. Truly, I have silently cried an ocean of tears over my Matthew. At first, they were sorrow, frustration, exhaustion, anger. Now they are joy, pride, adoration, understanding, and gratitude.
5. What is one thing that you would like to say to anyone not familiar with autism to know? Before my son was diagnosed with Autism, I knew nothing. Now, I am an advocate. Relax and enjoy your child. When you see a child misbehaving at the grocery store, rather than making comments about how “naughty” the child is, give a warm smile to the mother who is at the verge of tears. I have ended up on the floor of many, many grocery stores, rocking my son back to reality, with strangers just telling me he needs a spanking. To them I say: “I’m sorry that you are unfamiliar, but my son is Autistic.”