Raising children with autism may not be what Lisa Brown expected to do as a mother, yet despite the challenges that she has faced, her attitude remains positive as she and her children strive for success
Every expectant mother dreams of the joy her child will bring. She dreams of the sheer, impenetrable circle of adoration that sheathes a mother and her baby. She dreams of the first days of school, days when her precious child will timidly shuffle into unknown territory, completely unaware of the power of education. She dreams of all the school concerts and recitals she will go to, her pockets stuffed with cameras, her heart full of pride. She dreams of graduation, when she’ll sit in the audience, holding back tears as her baby walks across the stage exhibiting the maturity of an adult. She dreams of jobs, weddings, and other milestones that mark success in her child’s life. With a simple smile upon her face, every expectant mother dreams of all the wonderful things her baby will accomplish. It never crosses her mind that there may be a glitch in her child’s fairy tale; it never crosses her mind that her child might have…autism.
Lisa Brown is the mother of three children, two of whom have autism, and just like any other expectant mother, she never saw it coming. She states, “There is just no way of knowing.” There was no way she could tell.
When Lisa gave birth to her first born child, Ella, everything seemed completely normal. All of the typical joys of infancy were present. It wasn’t until Ella was eighteen months old before her mother realised that something wasn’t quite right.
Ella had previously developed certain levels of speech, levels of speech similar to any baby. Yet at eighteen months, Ella’s speech development changed. It didn’t stop; it simply took a backwards turn.
Instead of learning more and more words, Ella started forgetting words, retaining less and less. Soon, Ella no longer had the capacity for verbal communication.
Lisa also started noticing other changes in Ella. While most little girls love affectionate attention, Ella seemed to despise being touched. She became reclusive. Her mother describes how she could no longer hug her daughter, and when she would put Ella on her knee, “She would want to come down straight away.” Lisa was beside herself. She didn’t know what was wrong.
Ella’s loss of speech and withdrawal from others worried Ms. Brown, but she had never heard of such things before. She didn’t know where to turn. Then, one day, Ella stopped responding to her own name. While this certainly didn’t appease Lisa, this gave her something that doctors could test.
Lisa took Ella in to be tested for hearing impairment. It seemed to make sense. If Ella could no longer hear, she couldn’t learn new words. And maybe this loss of hearing somehow contributed to her newly developed reclusive personality. Ms. Brown was hopeful that the doctors would be able to help Ella.But Ella passed the hearing tests with f lying colours. Ella was not deaf. There was something else causing the problems.
just like any other expectant mother, Lisa Brown never saw it coming. She states, “There is just no way of knowing.”
With her positive attitude, Lisa remains an inspiration for other mothers and fathers experiencing similar difficulties. She wants parents to keep their dreams for their children
Instead of providing Lisa with answers, the doctor simply referred Lisa to a paediatric specialist, a paediatric specialist with a four to five-month waiting list.
As expected, Lisa became extremely discouraged. She had strong suspicions that the doctor knew what was wrong with Ella, but instead of cluing her in, he told her to wait. Wait? He must have been out of his mind. Telling a desperate mother to wait several months to find out what is wrong with her child is like telling a football player to cut off his feet—a simply ludicrous suggestion.
Lisa decided to take matters into her own hands. She decided to do her research.
She began spending hours online, researching the symptoms that her daughter displayed. After awhile, it all became very clear to Lisa what was wrong with Ella. Ella had autism.
Ms. Brown contacted The National Autistic Society in the UK (NAS) in hopes that they could help her. They provided her with more information about autism, and possible programmes she could join. Yet ultimately, she was given the same answer. Wait. They could not enrol Ella in any support programmes without an official diagnosis.
Resigned, Lisa realised that waiting was the only thing left to do. She describes this waiting period as the most frustrating and difficult part of the whole process. It was “a little bit of a blur…an upsetting time of waiting.” She says that “there wasn’t a lot we could do at home. Tell family and things.” And while this period of waiting was formidable, in the end it was worth it.
After Lisa got the official diagnosis of autism, everything started to change for the better. The NAS placed both Ella and her parents in the ‘Early Bird Programme,’ a programme which provides support for early childhood intervention for children with autism. The programme is divided into two groups: the children and the parents.
The six other sets of parents in Lisa’s group helped her remember that she was not alone in this process. There were other parents, just like her, experiencing the same things. Together, they were shown videos of children with autism, and they were given tasks to complete at home that would help with their child’s development. Lisa describes this programme as being the crucial factor to Ella’s improvement.
Ella was offered a place in a specialised school for children with autism and other disabilities. Between the programme and the school, Ella has encountered much progress over the past several years.
While previously not able to communicate at all, Ella has learned to communicate using the picture exchange communication system (PECS), a visual communication device. She will point to pictures of things she wants, and her parents will point to pictures of things they want her to do. And just recently, Ella’s speech has begun to redevelop.
Now twelve years old, Ella has started verbally communicating again. When she is hungry, she will use words like “crisp,” and when she wants to play outdoors, she will say “outside.” It is hard to miss Lisa’s excitement as she says, “Ella’s words are coming more quickly now.”
Despite the hardships through which she and her family have gone, Lisa never gave up her beautifully positive attitude. She gave birth to two more children, boys named Leo and Max. Just like before, she only had dreamt of the life her children would live; she never thought of autism.
Leo, is now eight years old, a healthy little boy, with no known disorders. Her third child, Max, was diagnosed at age two with autism, although he is at the more able end of the spectrum. He brief ly received help from the Early Bird Programme, but now he only receives special help from teachers in his regular school. He retains the capacity to verbally communicate.
With her positive attitude, Lisa remains an inspiration for other mothers and fathers experiencing similar difficulties. She wants parents to keep their dreams for their children, but if they suspect that something is not quite right, it is important not to ignore it; they must seek immediate medical attention. She says they “must not give up.” Like she did, Lisa encourages parents to pursue their own research. She cautions against “weird internet sites with autism cures” because there is no cure for autism, but “the earlier it’s diagnosed, and the earlier the intervention, the better it is for the child.” She encourages parents to “go see a doctor.” If the doctor insists that nothing is wrong, they must “insist on a referral.” And no matter what, she repeats that they “must not give up.”
Children with autism can grow up to be successful, just like other children without the disorder. Lisa experiences the wonderful joy of a loving relationship with three beautiful children. She gets joy out of watching their achievements in school, and she looks forward to the joy they will bring her in the future. Sure, her relationship with her children, especially her two autistic children, may be slightly different, but what mother-child relationship isn’t different than others? With Lisa Brown as an inspiration, mothers must realise that although autism may be a glitch in their child’s fairy tale, all of the dreams that they have for their children still can come true.