My son Tyler did not start out to be such a success.
When we first found out he had autism he was nonverbal, hand flapped, hummed and paced constantly. At the time when Tyler was diagnosed there was still much unknown about the disease. There was little information online, and according to the Autism Society of Michigan run by Dr. Sally Burton Hoyle, there were only two people in the state who could properly diagnose him.
One person was a doctor at the University of Michigan, the other was a doctor in St. Clair who specialized in the disorder. They both agreed my son had autism.
When it was time for him to go to school I had very mixed feelings. My choices were the school his brother was going to, Baldwin Heights Elementary School, or another school farther away where all of the other autistic children went.
I was adamant my son be mainstreamed as I could not see how he would ever learn to communicate around other autistic children. This was not a popular opinion, to say the least, but Baldwin Heights was exceptional in its help and willingness to accommodate and support what was best for Tyler. In fact, I was told Tyler was the first autistic child that went to Baldwin Heights.
He had to repeat kindergarten twice and there were times we thought for sure he would not make it, but he did. Eventually he did not need the full-time aide and his grades began to skyrocket. He did have some bad bullying experiences but overall by fifth grade everyone knew who Tyler was, they knew he was different yet they still accepted him, thanks to the support and compassion of Baldwin staff.
I have to give a special thanks to his teachers, school principal, speech therapists, occupational therapist (I’m sorry I don’t remember all their names) and his social worker Mrs. C. We were also grateful for the autism specialist from Seiter Educational Center would come by twice a week to see Tyler, and help explain autism to the other children at Baldwin Heights. I also want to thank Mr. Springsteen for working with Tyler for two consecutive grades and helping him believe he was capable of anything.
I had always assumed I would have a lifetime friend living right beside me. My biggest fear was always, what would happen to Tyler if something were to happen to us? I am an empty nester now, which I thought would never be a possibility. It was very difficult to go against the majority but I refused to let society write off my son. I knew that even though he had communication difficulties he was brilliant and just needed someone to believe in him. As he got older I would give him money and let him walk to the store, of course I was following the whole time, but the point is I treated him appropriate to his age. We even dined out once a week. Tyler knows where to put his napkin, which fork to use, etc. I wanted him to know this so he could take a girl out some day and he became quite the gentleman.
Tyler graduated with honors and with five full-time scholarships. In spite of him getting lost a lot and wandering off when he was younger, he takes two city buses each way to get back and forth to school. I have begged him to let me help to at least drive him but he adamantly refuses. This is when I get the, “Oh mother, stop worrying, I can take care of myself now,” speech. He is still autistic and does his hand flapping while waiting at bus stops along with his pacing. However, he is in college, self-reliant and will someday pay taxes.
I am telling this story to give hope to all of the mothers out there who have autistic children and to give great thanks and appreciation to Baldwin Heights. Without the help from all of the teachers, therapists, specialists, social workers and administration there is no doubt we could never have accomplished such a successful outcome.
Kelly Greenbaum resides in Greenville.
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