Last April, I ran a campaign called “Shine a Light on Autism” to help raise autism awareness in which I asked families experiencing autism to share their stories with us. During the campaign, many moms, dads, and family members wrote in and shared their unique experiences with us. Each heart felt story was more moving than the next. They touched me deeply. Thank you to all who participated, and if you haven’t read the stories you can do so here. Also a HUGE thank you to Autism New Jersey for their help in promoting and supporting me throughout this endeavor! The campaign ended when my brother Paul, who also has autism, reached his hand into a hat and randomly drew the name of the family who would win a portrait session with me. It was Andrew and his family…
After trying to coordinate busy schedules, we met with Andrew and his lovely family at Deep Cut Park in Monmouth County. The foliage was perfect and though it was a crisp day, the kids soon had their jackets off. Andrew was a handsome boy with a gentle demeanor and kind eyes. He was also quiet and seemed a bit unsure of why we were at the park. I led him to various places that I thought would make for picturesque backgrounds. His older brother, Brian, who stayed with us for most of the time, was encouraging and supportive. Seemingly wise beyond his years, Brian was also very interesting to talk to. He enjoys photography and wanted to know how I took pictures of moving subjects without them coming out blurry. He may have been referring to his little sister, Kaitlyn, blonde and beautiful with all the energy of a 3 year old. She would stop just long enough for a few shots and then run off to play. Andrew would also wander off after a couple of clicks. When I gently coaxed him back, he would agree and come with me to one of my strategic spots. One time he came towards me and didn’t stop. As he got closer and closer, I thought he was going to kiss me on the cheek, but he stopped just as his nose almost touched my face. He was smelling me; his brother said he liked to do that sometimes. Later when I told his mother, she said, “Oh, he must be very comfortable with you. That means he likes you.” I was so touched. Andrew said very little and so this gesture meant a lot to me.
For much of the session, Andrew held on to a doll – Jessie from Toy Story – much like a security blanket offering some kind of tactile reassurance. This made me think of my brother who very often has a small, soft football that he adeptly tosses up in the air from hand to hand without even looking. Every Christmas we get him another one to replace the worn out one that served him all year long. I tried to take Jessie from Andrew a couple of times and saw that he wasn’t comfortable with that, so we just decided to make the doll a part of documenting Andrew…as he is, with what he likes. Andrew is beautiful. His face has the innocence of a child, but with that innocence comes a special vulnerability. I know how difficult it is for someone with autism to understand and navigate through this complicated world in which we live.
After meeting his mom and dad, I can see that Andrew is very lucky to have such loving and devoted parents. They were nothing short of warm and comfortable to be with, and you could see how much they loved their children. My hope is that this session does “Shine a Light” on autism and is a small window into one of the many families that are affected by it.
If you haven’t read the story or seen the video that Andrew’s mom submitted, you definitely should. It’s beautiful. You can also hear what she has to say about the delicate balance of parenting three children, including a child with autism here on her blog.
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Before I announce the winner, I’d just like to thank everyone who participated in our “Shine a Light on Autism” campaign. Your love and dedication are inspiring to me and many others. The stories were all very poignant and I feel like they really showed the broad spectrum that is autism. Thank you for helping us to raise awareness and thank you to all the people who left words of encouragement, strength and support – they really go a long way!!
It is really hard for me to choose only one winner, but here it goes…please watch the following video of me and my brother Paul to see who the winner is:
The winner is “Andrew’s Smile!”
We’d also like to announce those who won the “Autism Awareness” prizes for leaving their comments here on my blog and on facebook:
The winners will receive either an Autism Awareness car magnet, key chain, or tote bag. We will be contacting you soon… :)
Last week, I received this video along with the second entry into my 2010 Autsm Campaign. Please watch, it’s simply beautiful.
Thank You to Andrew’s mom for sharing his smile with us.
Andrew is our second child. He was conceived soon after the birth of our 1st child, Brian. I always say that he was a result of the emotions we were feeling the days following September 11, 2001. We were a young family then with a 4 month old baby and we clung to one another following that life changing event. Andrew was born the following June. We bought our first house and moved out of the one bedroom apartment we were renting while I was pregnant with him. He was such a good baby. But I also remember sensing something unique in him on the day of his birth. I noted this to my husband. I saw something in his eyes and told my husband that the way he looked at me was as if he held the wisdom of a old man who had lived a lifetime, and not the newborn baby that he was. He barely cried. He was perfectly content hanging out in his basinet, which was much different than his brother who would cry until I picked him up. I am a special education teacher and was teaching in a preschool handicapped classroom while pregnant with Andrew. Many of the children that I had taught were on the Autism Spectrum, so Autism was not something I was unfamiliar with. In fact it was something I was very hyper aware of and would almost look for signs of Autism in my children out of worry. So when I would enter Andrew’s bedroom, at 3 months of age, and he would be happily kicking and cooing, totally engrossed in his mobile, I would call his name and hold my breath that he would turn his little head away from the mobile and peek through the crib bars at me. But he wouldn’t. I would tell myself that I was just being way too hyperaware. He was much too young for me to be concerned about Autism. And I would quickly put those thoughts out of my mind. Until next time when he wouldn’t turn again. I was constantly analyzing him. He would look at me and laugh like all babies did, but why did it feel like I had to work harder for his attention than I remember having to do for his older brother. Every concern I ever had was quickly put to rest by some well meaning comment from others such as, “you can’t compare”, “all children are different”.
Months went by and more red flags were there. Lack of eye contact. Not responding to his name. Few words. Loss of words he did say. I knew I had to take this to someone other than family members who would dismiss my concerns as just me being a worrying mother. So, I made his well care appointment that was meant to be his 15 month visit a month early and brought him into the office at 14 months. I started to list all of the red flags I was seeing to the doctor. We moved on to a hearing evaluation to rule that out. I called Early Intervention for an evaluation. He qualified for services. We made the appointment with the neurologist. The earliest they would see him was six months. Finally after all was said and done, my concerns were justified with the official diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder three days shy of Andrew’s 2nd birthday.
Now, at age 7 (going on 8), Andrew is still the same baby I held in my arms in June 2002. He has made great progress, but still his language is limited. He brings so much joy to us every day and makes us so proud to be his parents. We have had another child since then too. A daughter, Kaitlyn, now 2 (going on 3). Another June baby. She is doing wonderful and is Andrew’s best playmate.
Life with our three is full, complete and I wouldn’t change a thing. Autism is not always easy. But it is what it is. We work hard every day to help Andrew reach his full potential. We love and accept him for who he is completely.
~story, photo, & video submitted by Andew’s mom
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