Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Child Was Not Born Perfect

Healthy kids are one of life's greatest blessings. So are kids who are born with challenges.

Sheila here.
All kids are angels sent from Heaven in my book.

I've been reading a book written by a mother whose son has a learning disability. JD's medical condition is known as hyperlexia (he could read before he could speak full sentences), and it's now categorized as a form of autism. Back in the 1990's when Kimberly Bell Mocini was raising her son JD, people didn't know much about autism, and precious few had heard of hyperlexia. The signs weren't widely publicized back then, the way they are now on every morning talk show -- or even Oprah (think Jenny McCarthy).

I picked up My Child Wasn't Born Perfect a few days ago after a mutual friend of mine and the author's asked me to give it a look. Kimberly sounds like so many moms I know, and even a bit like myself. JD was the second of three of Kimberly's children. She also had a teenage stepson, and she worked full-time. Like every mom, she learned how to juggle a lot of commitments.

When JD was three years old, Kimberly noticed that his development did not seem like it was on track. By that time she had given birth to her third baby, and as she describes it, "I did not have time or know what to do." Her husband didn't agree with her, the pediatrician didn't offer any suggestions, but Kimberly couldn't let it go. Good thing too. After a relative suggested having JD tested through her local school system, she was able find out she was right. Kimberly writes: "This was the beginning of what I labeled as my 'make the call anyway' method of matter how ridiculous my thoughts or actions might seem...I would follow them for the love of my son."

April is Autism Awareness Month. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimated that 1 in 88 American children has some form of autism spectrum disorder. That's a 78% increase compared to a decade ago, according to the new report. Mark Roithmayr, president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, says more children are being diagnosed with autism because of "better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, and better awareness." Now the CDC is working with the Academy of American Pediatrics to recommend that children get screened for autism at ages 18 months and 24 months.

It was very difficult for Kimberly Bell Mocini to find information and resources when JD was a child, and she's sharing her story because she wants to give other parents of learning disabled and autistic children some help. Each chapter of her book includes resources which parents can use right now. They say there's not manual for raising kids, but she gives parents a gameplan. It's also heart-wrenching to read about the many ways JD was isolated by other children and often ridiculed all the way up through his high school years.

But most importantly, I think, it gives the parents of learning disabled and autistic children hope. Here's a woman who can relate to what they are going through, and delivers a guide for how to help those children navigate school, social situations, and life. She doesn't make it easy -- I don't think that's possible -- but her work can show all of us that we must never give up, especially when it comes to our kids. And maybe best of all, the reader gets to find out how it all turns out for JD. By senior year he was getting calls from friends, dates for proms, and interest from colleges. Not only did JD graduate, he was one of three class valedictorians! He won several scholarships for college, and he played on his college golf team. Kimberly writes: "Dreams do come true!"

Now, at age 23, JD is a software developer for a Florida company which writes software programs for some of the largest law firms in the world. JD wrote the final chapter of his mother's book. "I have learned that if I keep believing in myself, despite what others think of me, they cannot get under my skin and break me down...I really believe that with hard work and dedication anyone can be a success." And he writes this to others who are living with a disability: "Remember that you have special qualities that others may wish that they had. Be thankful for what you do have."

Some wise reminders for all of us.

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