Welcome to our first Wednesday’s Woman during Autism Awareness Month! I met Annie on Facebook, and she has been such an encouragement to me. See her picture? That’s how she sounds almost every time she posts something! God has blessed her with energy and optimism! And now, here’s Annie Eskeldson in her own words…
I am a native Nebraskan who has lived in Kansas for more than a decade. Much of that has been spent providing therapy for and homeschooling my autistic daughter, Ashli-Meghan, who goes by Ashi for short.
I knew Ashi was special when she was born. She could be held and she could nurse, but this “socialness” was only to fulfill her needs, and then she was done with me. It sounds like a typical new infant, but I knew different. She had her own agenda the day she was born, and she was not interested in giving anything back…yet.
By 16 months, Ashli-Meghan was diagnosed with autism. Luckily, I had been able to stay at home with Ashi and work with her in special ways since she was born. I am a scientist at heart, very analytical and observant. Combining this with a very experienced pediatrician, it’s easy to see how we were able to get an answer so early on. But, this would only be the beginning of a journey down a road that I like to warn parents about.
We were just steered in all the wrong directions. The “help” we received in the beginning was abysmal. Initially we were led to programs through early childhood intervention programs. What we found where “therapists” who were more interested in getting our daughter into programs that had nothing to do with her autism. They told us that Ashi’s IQ was low, that she’d never read, write, talk, or fit in. My gut feelings and instincts were against these people and I didn’t like the scare tactic they were using. I threw their reports in the garbage and followed my instincts.
It was clear that I would be the one to provide Ashi’s therapy and so we got to work doing armloads of research and figuring out how to rearrange our lives. It was shocking to find that my research actually described activities that I had already been doing with Ashi all along, just by instinct and common sense.
Some things I came up with on my own, some things I had to make, some things we had to buy, but when I realized that Ashli-Meghan had been receiving round the clock therapy, by one therapist (Me), all along, I was so relieved and it really became our lifestyle instead of just something performed once or twice a week at an office. Ashi and I worked hard at everything; speech, fine motor skills, behavioral issues, sensory issues, toileting, food issues, you name it, we worked day in and day out, tackling each and every issue, letting nothing slide.
Fast forward more than 7 years and 50,000 hours of therapy, and you will see that Ashi is thriving. Much of her autism has been reversed. She would’ve been labled somewhere past moderate, but not quite severe ASD. Today she is very high functioning. She has way above average intelligence, is very imaginative, and is a fun-loving, ‘A’ student. She has no learning disabilities.
Therapy is still so much incorporated into our lives, that we really don’t ‘perform’ it, we just ‘live’ it, but mostly what we do now is homeschool. We have really been homeschooling since Ashi was about 2. She could read by the age of 2, but was non-verbal just beyond the age of 4. Of course, today, you can’t get her to be quiet!! But this is another warning for parents: just because your child is autistic or Asperger’s doesn’t automatically mean he has a learning disability. Many of these kids have intelligence far beyond their peers, even those who are non-verbal.
I never doubted that we would make these strides. I never believed those initial reports and tossed them in the trash. I knew those “professionals” really weren’t for us but for themselves and we got rid of them. I got deep into Ashi’s world to discover what in the world was going on. And, I stayed there.
I learned that wearing clothes hurt her, and lights and sounds were painful, I learned that she’s so picky about her eating because it gives her some security. I learned how much she relates to and loves animals and water. I learned what makes her happy and what scares her. I attached little pieces of therapy to all the things she obsessed over, and gradually this little girl and her Mommy began to walk out of autism and leave much of it behind.
This is another warning for parents. If you can, stay at home with your child. Let the career go by the wayside, it will be there later. There is a special healing when a mother can connect with her child in this way, every hour of every day, unlike any therapist. This way, therapy is dependable, it is predictable, it is done by one person and you don’t even have to leave your house, avoiding transitions which can be difficult for autists. The money you will save by not paying someone to do what you can do is probably more than your salary anyway. Husbands and wives, stay married so you give yourselves options with these children.
Ashi’s progress inspired me to write books for others coping with autism. My books are unique because they have an autistic character children can relate to, but also nurture the parent as they read the book aloud. I also include self-discovery type tips. My first book, Ashi’s Gift, is told by young autist, Ashi. She describes some of her misunderstood behaviors and the often frustrated feelings of her Mommy. Mommy goes from discouragement to joy as she and Ashi learn autism is a gift and they are a gift to each other.
My second book, Ashi: In a Class all by Myself tackles the issue of homeschooling an autist. Ashi goes from hating school to loving it with Mommy’s determination and some furry friends. Even if you don’t homeschool, you will enjoy this sequel to Ashi’s Gift. Both are true, heartwarming stories.
My third book is currently being illustrated by Susan Sader and is titled, Ashi’s Birthday and Other Dreaded Days. This book is helpful in teaching family members and distant relatives what holidays are like for autists. They don’t necessarily look forward to them like typical children. Look for this book around Christmas time.
My website is www.authorannie.com
Like Ashi’s Gift on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ashis-Gift/114725468586086
Follow me on twitter at @AshisGiftTweets
Personally, I can’t wait for Annie’s third book! I am hoping it will help other people understand what special events are like for Dr. J.