NEK Celebrates Autism Awareness Month

autismmonthST. JOHNSBURY- April is National Autism Awareness month, and people in Vermont are celebrating neurodiversity and recognizing the strengths and challenges children and families face with autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder ranges from conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication. Courtney Daffinrud, a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst at the Kingdom Autism Behavior LLC says people diagnosed with ASD can have "difficulty understanding and demonstrating age-appropriate social skills and have a variety of unusual interests or behaviors. The way that these symptoms manifest in each child can vary greatly."

Syvanna Roderick-Kilduff's soon to be three year old son Jameson was diagnosed with autism in July 2017. His parents first noticed something was wrong when he wasn't hearing correctly at birth. At around one years old, he developed speech delays and started to receive speech services from a speech pathologist. While Jameson was making progress, he did start to lose words.

"I couldn't sleep one night and had come across an article about speech delays and autism and JJ seemed to meet all the guidelines for autism, it was in this moment that I as a mother knew what my child had. I just had to get an official diagnosis."

Daffinrud says over the years people have started to change the name of Autism Awareness Month to Autism Awareness and Appreciation Month. "There is a general feeling that over the last number of years there is a pretty great awareness of Autism and that now the focus should be on how to promote inclusion and acceptance."

Brent Abare whose son is autistic say this month is an opportunity for public awareness. Abare says, "the greatest challenge with autism is understanding the causes and the treatment. If we can raise public awareness, then we have increased the chances for people afflicted by autism to become productive and happy members of society."

Roderick-Kilduff says, "I have always been a momma bear with my older child, but something happens when you become a mother of a child with special needs. You are their advocate and voice. I rally for autism." She says she fights for not only Jameson's needs but for other children in the area.

One resource parents with a child with Autism have in the Northeast Kingdom is the Kingdom Autism Behavior Health LLC in St. Johnsbury. This center provides a range of services to children and families affected by Autism or other behavioral challenges. Daffinrud says the center provides school consultation services, parent trainings, and intensive early intervention services. The services provided are all based in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Daffinrud says "which is extremely well-supported by the scientific literature as an effective way to teach adaptive skills [communication, play, social skills, daily routines, school readiness] and decrease behaviors that may interfere with learning or accessing the community."

Abare says the KABH helps his son and his family directly and indirectly. "Courtney helps my son interpret and interact with the world around him. She gives us tools to help him interact and to interpret his actions when it is not readily apparent what his purpose is. People with autism always have a purpose." Abare says the KABH gives compassionate feedback when him and his wife need it.

And in Abare's opinion, the best part of having a family member with autism is the rewards of achievement and overcoming obstacles. "To allow yourself to have the thought that your child is going to make it because of your love and hard work of all those around him."

He says that autism isn't the end but rather the beginning of the journey. "Savior every moment of it and look to the positives for strength and inspiration. Just as in all things in life that are meaningful or important." He says that having a child with autism is a team effort and that him and his wife Sophia could not do it on their own without the help of KABH.

Roderick-Kilduff says that she's been taking classes to help Jameson with ABA, so school and work are easier to balance for the family. "I like to make sure that whatever is taught at KABH is carried over at home because consistency is a must for these kids."

In her opinion, some positives about having a child with autism are his personality, "he has a very picture-oriented brain, he has colored in the lines since he was 18 months old and can do hard puzzles like a champ. He has a great persistence and determination and I believe that it will serve him well growing up. He has a different brain, not less."

To celebrate, KABH is hosting a sensory friendly movie at the Star Theater in St. Johnsbury on Sunday April 28th at 10:00am. There will be adjustments made to the sound and lighting in order to create a stress-free event for families and children attending. For more information visit the Kingdom Autsim Behavioral Health website