Parenting and autism: Amy’s story

Apr 15, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Amy Friedman’s son was diagnosed with autism at 3, but she had been suspicious of his development long beforehand. The Deerfield, Illinois, mom says parenting a special needs child and two other kids is both challenging and rewarding.

Amy Friedman and family

My 11-year-old son Alex is a sweet, happy boy. He’s mild-mannered and loves to play outside, climb, ride bikes and watch The Wiggles. His younger sister Sydney, 8, is protective and younger brother Jake, 5, keeps everyone laughing.

Seeking answers

We started going to therapies before 18 months old. Something wasn’t right. Alex was walking on his toes, flapping his hands. At 10 months, he knew the alphabet on his own and would say the word "yellow" but he didn’t say "mama." He wasn’t giggling when I played with him, and he’d vomit from eating one Cheerio so I fed him baby food for a long time.

The pediatrician just said, “He’s a boy.” Alex would always cry like other kids at the doctor’s office, so he probably didn’t seem that different. I was reading magazine articles that listed symptoms Alex had, but the pediatrician didn’t think he had autism because he didn’t show all the symptoms. Alex blended in well. He didn’t have any facial features that stood out.

At age 3, Alex was tested by a psychologist. After three days of testing, we learned he was on the autism spectrum. We were hysterically crying even though we already had a feeling inside.

Helping Alex

My husband Mark said he was going to do what he could to help Alex be the best he could be. Alex is nonverbal, and every year I kept saying he’s going to get better, and he’s going to talk. And the years went by. We went to Colorado for special treatments and spent any money we could trying to help Alex.

Alex works with an occupational therapist and two speech therapists. He used to use a DynaVox, a big, heavy and clunky device he’d wear around his shoulders to help him communicate.

Now, he’s using the iPad a lot — it’s small and light, and there’s no stigma attached to it. He can go through the iPad program and say what he wants. He loves things that are visual like the TV and the computer.

Rock star in the hallways

There’s something about Alex that attracts people to him. Everywhere we go, people love him. He’s kind and easygoing.

He’s in regular public school, and he goes into the special classroom and gets mainstreamed. The kids at his school love him and want to walk him to class and help him. The kids dote on Alex like he’s famous.

Mark and I still get sad, especially when we wonder about the future — like whether Alex will always have to live at home. But I’m able to think positively most days thanks to Mark’s support, my career as a physical therapist and regular exercise.

Mom Thought

There are plenty of emotional, financial and scheduling challenges with Alex, but I feel the hard work pays off. Raising Alex is rewarding, especially when we see how far he’s come. Alex is an incredibly sweet boy and a blessing. When he smiles, I smile.

Image credit: Amy Friedman

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