By Nancy McGill
Melody Lindsey of Chester began educating herself on autism when she first learned her son was functioning on the high end of the autism spectrum.
“He was diagnosed with Asperger’s. The pediatrician thought he had ADD or ADHD,” Lindsey said about her son, Robert, who is a senior at Thayer Central this year.
The acronyms stand for Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Children who have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD may be austistic, Lindsey said.
It was the preschool teacher who first thought Robert was autistic. He was three years old, and the family lived in Alaska.
“Once you know, start the help right away,” Lindsey advised parents.
Under a doctor’s suggestion, Lindsey had Robert in speech and occupational therapy. He learned typing in the first grade because his writing coordination lacked.
Lindsey said she used constant repetition and a lot of patience.
“I’ve worked with him all his life,” she said.
She said autistic children don’t respond to traditional discipline. Time outs helped Lindsey because she could explain to Robert what he did wrong.
“Some days are very trying,” Lindsey said.
Autistic children will typically hone in on something they like. For Robert, it was heavy construction equipment. He also liked movies, so Lindsey brought out Bob the Builder to give his interest meaning.
“He went from dump trucks to Pokemon cards,” Lindsey said. “He can tell you every Pokemon card ever made.”
But his social life was a different story.
“Socially, autistic kids struggle,” Lindsey said. “He was bullied.”
Robert tells others with autism to keep their heads high.
“It will honestly get better if you get the help you need,” he said. “My mom caught me very early, but I have met kids on the lower end. I feel lucky.”
Robert said he made friends with an autisitic student, who has a hard time with other students.
“No one ever talked to him. It was a little upsetting,” he said.
Lindsey said Robert also had an excellent resource teacher who recognized his needs. She had gum and rubber balls for Robert to squeeze to relieve his anxiety.
Robert is no longer bullied. He stands 6 feet, 5 inches.
Life changed when the family moved from Anchorage, Alaska, to Chester about three years ago.
“Robert has adapted here really well,” Lindsey said.
He has been on the track and football teams for three years and wrestled for one year.
“The kids here took him in,” Lindsey said. “We’ve had no problems.”
And now, Robert’s journey will soon take a new path. He is planning to attend Central Community College in Hastings this fall.
“I have always advocated for him. Now he has to advocate for himself,” his mother explained.
Essentially, Robert has taken the lead for two years.
“Robert doesn’t feel like he’s different — he knows he is different,” Lindsey said.
She once met a doctor with Asperger’s.
“Don’t stop your children from who they want to be — they can do it,” she said.
Robert is thinking of majoring in computer science, but he said there is a lot out there for him to explore.
Lindsey has a plethora of information for parents of autistic children and said she would be glad to share her experience and talk to parents.
“You have to kind of crawl into their head,” she said about autistic children.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Visit www.autism-society.org for more information.