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Patience and play are the keys to raising autistic sons

By: Joyia Emard gold country news service
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Parenting three young boys can be a challenge, but when the brothers all have autism it takes incredible patience.
Roseville resident Stephanie Blackard (nee Gillette), a 1996 Del Oro High School graduate, and her husband, Ragain, know this only too well.
Their 6-year old identical twins, Isaac and Jacob, and their 3-year-old son, Lucas, have all been diagnosed with autism.
“It goes against most classic parenting strategies,” Stephanie Blackard said, when asked how she parents three children diagnosed with the neurological disorder.
Stephanie said a lack of awareness and research funds led her to join with other parents of children with autism to start a Sacramento-area walk that benefits Autism Speaks.
The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatment of autism and to raise public awareness. Last year, the event raised $5,000.
Stephanie said it can take six months for one of her boys to master a simple skill.
“It requires a lot of patience, a lot of consistency. You go over and over the same thing,” she said.
Stephanie said the twins were 3 ½ when they were diagnosed and their younger brother was 2. She said there were early signs that set her children apart.
“They walked on their toes more than 50 percent of the time, they had a hard time transitioning that wouldn’t get better even though they repeated the same routine,” she explained.
“At age 2, the twins were really interested in letters and numbers, we just thought ‘Oh, they’re going to be incredibly smart,’” she said.
The Roseville resident said her younger son’s autism manifested differently.
“Lucas would say a word once and never say it again,” Stephanie said.
She said Lucas would use hand gestures if he wanted something or would cry and point.
“Language is challenging for these kids. We have to teach them that communicating is rewarding,” she said.
Stephanie said they use modeling and rewards to help Lucas learn and that “crying wouldn’t get it” when he wanted something.
“It’s pretty painful to watch your child cry and know what they want, but you won’t give it to him,” she said.
Melinda Brechtel, of Loomis, is an occupational therapist who worked with Lucas.
She said that children on the autism spectrum have a sensory processing problem and can’t integrate the input from their five senses in order to learn.
She said she uses play and movement to “help open up their nervous pathways.”
“Moving helps organize the nervous system so there can be sensory integration,” Stephanie said.
The Autism Society of America Web site describes the disorder as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.”
The site also states autism is “defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum disorder’ that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.”
Stephanie, 30, said that research into the causes for the disorder are “inconclusive.”
She said researchers theorize that a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic, cause different forms of autism.
“It’s so heartbreaking to know there isn’t a way to keep other families from going through this,” Stephanie said.
Reach Gold Country News Service’s Joyia Emard at joyiae@goldcountrymedia.com.


Autism Facts:

• 1 in every 150 American children is autistic
• Occurs in 1 in 94 boys
• Four times more likely in boys

Early signs
• Lack of or delay in spoken language
• Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
• Little or no eye contact
• Lack of interest in peer relationships
• Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
• Persistent fixation on parts of objects

How to help
• Walk Now for Autism Speaks: 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4, at Raley Field, Sacramento
• Register at walknowforautism.org/sacramento or call (707) 778-3840

Sources:
autism-society.org autismspeaks.org