Sometimes dates make a difference.
August 2, 2006 is one of them: it was on this date that my older son, Jacob, received his official Autism diagnosis from Robert J. Rome, PhD of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. At the time, Jacob was slightly more than a month away from his third birthday.
Receiving the diagnosis was an emotional experience, though it was not entirely a surprise. Actually, in many respects it was a relief because having the diagnosis allowed Jacob to receive an array of helpful services for which he did not previously qualify.
At the time of his diagnosis Jacob had very limited speech (3 to 6 word sentences were the extent of his verbal communication). He also lined up items, heavily stimmed and exhibited many obsessive compulsive behaviors. In addition he had many fears and also lacked basic social skills. Despite these challenges, he emanated a beautiful and loving spark that just needed some help to shine more brightly.
Since then Jacob has made remarkable progress, most notably due to early intervention services such as Applied Behavior Analysis services provided by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). Founded in 1990 by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh CARD is a leading provider of autism services.
Due in large part to CARD, Jacob’s inner light now shines brightly. He has truly emerged into the wonderful, thoughtful and intelligent little boy he always was. Grateful is a word that barely communicates how I feel.
He is fascinated with numbers and can calculate large sums. His favorite number is “infinity!” Not surprisingly he also loves Buzz Lightyear (“to infinity and beyond!”). For a while he could even tell you the day of the week on which your next birthday would fall! Actually, I suspect he still can, but his therapists have discouraged the behavior.
He also loves to tell bad jokes — specifically those in the classic “knock, knock” variety. He is also a wonderful artist who loves to draw and paint. Although I am his Dad, I can honestly say he has an impressive talent.
It makes me smile that he can now not only communicate verbally but artistically as well. Occasionally he enjoys playing music with his brother, Max.
He is also an “old soul” and has engaged me several times about topics seven-year old boys don’t often ponder. Once he asked me “Dad, do you have to be dead to be in heaven?” I replied, “I suppose you do.” His response: “But God is in heaven and he isn’t dead!” Nietzsche retorts about God possibly being dead aside, I was stunned that this little boy was thinking about such big concepts. More recently he asked me what is on top of heaven!
Impressively, Jacob’s success story is more common than it is rare, as evidenced by the inspiring 20th anniversary video from CARD, below:
Looking to the future, one of my goals is to eventually create an organization called the “Ourtism Association.” The mission of the organization — named to recognize how autism affects everyone in a family and that it is “our” responsibility as a society to help — is to provide supplemental income to families and adult individuals with a diagnosis.
Right now it is only a dream, but I am working to make it a reality someday. My “big harry audacious goal” (nod to Jim Collins) is to raise enough money to provide $50,000 to 50 families each year. I suppose that isn’t outrageously audacious (it is “only” $2.5 million!), and 50 families is the tip of the iceberg, but my own experiences have inspired me to make a difference. This would be my contribution to that noble mission.
On a personal level, I will continue to encourage Jacob as the unique individual he is. I enjoy experiencing educational activities with Jacob, but also recognize his need to be silly. Despite his uncommon maturity, the last thing I want to do is rush him into adulthood.
It is my hope that Jacob can always exist in his ebullient essence.
I remain committed to Jacob’s enduring progress and will forever be his most ardent ally. I continue to make the most of my moments with him and my younger son, Max, and celebrate his achievements every day.
Speaking of Max, the other night when I called to say goodnight to him, Jacob told me a “knock, knock” joke:
“Max no difference!”