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A teenager’s view of autism

on May 10, 2011

When we were having trouble keeping Alex and the rest of the kids at our church happy all in one place, we began to lose hope that we would be able to attend church together as a family ever again.

But God had a plan, and it was gracefully handed down to us through 2 very dear folks in the form of their niece, Ileanna, whom they decided to bring in on Sunday mornings to help us with Alex during this very difficult time, to allow our family to attend church together without interruption, worry, or safety issues for the other kids.

We were immediately blessed by this energetic teenager who chased Alex around with apparent ease (she’s a soccer player; very svelte), and now frequently guides him into the preschool room where they actually remain for most, if not all, of the lessons & playtime with the other kids.

The reason I am sending out this note is because this was the essay Ileanna chose to send out to colleges of her choice. The required essay was supposed to be about someone who changed her life. Ileanna chose to write about Alex. She gave me permission to share; here is the essay that eventually won the heart of her university of choice;the University of WA:

“Hawaiian button-up collared shirt. Monkey backpack leash. As I stood and watched this boy swing back and forth on the church swing set, I noticed that the blur of cars passing on the highway behind us, leaves blowing in the wind, and every motion around him captivated his full attention. His wandering brown eyes were filled with curiosity about the world around him. Sure, I was fascinated, but little did I know that he would be the individual that would change my life.

Now before you take me for another naive love-sick teenage girl who believes her boyfriend is her “soul mate”, I should take a step back and clarify. His name is Alex, he was two years old at the time, and he has autism and sensory processing disorder. At first glance this boy seemed no different than any other two-year-old boy filled with life and energy. However, the more I observed him, the more the subtle differences jumped out at me. He spoke no more than one word phrases, such as “snack” and “eat”. And while I tried to make a connection and ask him questions about his favorite color and animal, he only held interactive conversations with himself, speaking in a language of his own. Furthermore, he lived in a world of his own creation. I wanted nothing more than to be privy to Alex’s mind, see the world through his eyes, understand his mind, and impact his life. While this was my goal, I was caught off guard to learn that it was he who would forever leave an impact on me.

To say we connected from the get-go would be a far stretch from the truth. I spent the duration of our first meeting running around everywhere, from the parking lot to the field outback, chasing after him because I couldn’t control him. After two hours I left the church feeling frustrated, tired, and sweaty. Being unable to connect with a child I was watching was such a new experience for me. I came back every Sunday after that, more determined than ever to bond with him; the task was grueling and tiring, but his ability to recognize me more week by week made the sweat worth it. Weeks turned into months, and my weekly visits became a sixteen hour per week job in the summer of 2010. The time I committed to Alex allowed me to experience his growth firsthand from two to four years of age. I’ve never felt as much excitement as I did when Alex put his first sentence together for me on November 12, 2009: “I want cookie.” While that sentence may be grammatically incorrect and seem insignificant to an outsider, for Alex, and for me, it was such a milestone. His growth surpassed all my expectations. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that the same boy who used to run away from me would in turn shower me with kisses and wait at his window for me saying; “I want Illy” and “Illy’s here!”

My work with Alex has made me appreciate the little things in life that I had taken for granted-such as the ability to communicate or do seemingly simple tasks such as following instructions, and all because of the “normal” biology and chemistry in my brain. Alex might not have all the opportunities I’ve been blessed with, however, he will see more love and feel more joy than most. Alex has shaped my character in more ways than I can ever begin to thank him for. I feel that in many ways he has helped me grow up. I see that not everyone experiences the world in the same way, some people struggle in ways that I had been oblivious to before. My experiences with Alex have defined me by inspiring me to think about my future and the difference I want to make. He’s solidified my desire to help people, specifically those who deal with unordinary struggles because I feel that I have gained an insight that has created compassion in me to be a support system for this growth process. Perhaps this will be in the medical field or another occupation that furthers autism research and raises autism awareness.

Alex and Illy Snow.jpg Alex’s ability to be content with the simplest things in life, like merely lining up toy cars, has brought immense happiness to my life and caused me to reevaluate what is worthy of being deemed as happiness. I envy his detached world, a world where he can run around and laugh and sing to himself without the fear of judgment. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of watching him grow, his mind flourish, and his social skills improve dramatically; and there is no greater reward than to have been a part of that. Children with autism generally don’t form good relationships with others; so when I look at Alex I couldn’t be more proud. I feel like I’ve been blessed with having the opportunity to be a part of his life. And this feeling is one I want to continuously experience in my life and future career. I would die in peace if the legacy I left to this world was one of compassion and love, and of a person who got the greatest joy in life from helping others.” by Ileanna Zaballa

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2 responses to “A teenager’s view of autism

  1. Adrienne says:

    I beautiful essay! I would imagine that blessed you very much!

  2. Adrienne says:

    *What a beautiful essay! Not sure what happened to my typing abilities there…:)

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