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18 || Grace Through Autism

No parent ever wants to hear that something is wrong with their child. No parent wants to hear the word autism linked to their child. Yet, that was the message that my mother flew 1500 miles to deliver to my husband and me in February 2008.

This unwelcome message came in the midst of an already difficult season of our lives. I had just moved my family across the country to start a new radio job in Minneapolis; we were living in a temporary apartment while trying to sell our home in Orlando; my grandfather had passed away a week before, and we had just returned from his funeral in Indiana. On top of all of that, we had no friends, no family nearby, and had yet to find a home church. It was during this season that my mother sat on our couch in tears telling me she thought something was really wrong with my beautiful little girl. I felt like a black hole was swallowing me and couldn’t understand where this was coming from.

You see, my story with autism is very different than other stories you might hear. I honestly didn’t think anything was wrong with my daughter. I knew she had changed after her 12-month vaccines, but I believed the doctors when they said she was just delayed. What I never could understand is why my little girl had changed from being healthy one day to being delayed the next. I couldn’t understand how a little girl who was born perfectly healthy and had been hitting every age-appropriate milestone had slowed down all of a sudden.

I realize many people don’t believe in vaccine-induced autism; I might have agreed with them if I hadn’t witnessed losing my little girl to autism. At the time of the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, I didn’t realize what was happening to her and had no clue what autism was. When I look back at the post vaccine fevers, the appetite change, and the staring and lack of eye contact, it seems all too clear. At the time though, I was a new first-time mom, and I honestly thought this was how all children developed.

I also trusted the doctors and nurses who said nothing was wrong and encouraged me to continue with her vaccinations. Hindsight is always perfect, and today I would do things very differently. But with the limited knowledge I had back then, we continued to vaccinate Aleks until she was two and a half years old.

For the longest time I beat myself up for being so naïve and dense. Why didn’t I listen to my gut? Why was I not confident enough to realize God was giving me that instinct for a reason?  In the years since, I’ve had to learn to forgive myself. I’ve realized I did the best I could at the time, and forgiving myself allowed God’s grace and freedom to take the place in my heart where hurt and anger had been residing. Although difficult, this freedom also allowed me to forgive the doctors and nurses who blew off my concerns and gave me questionable advice.

In the weeks following my mother’s visit, I hit the internet with a voracity unlike anything I had ever known before. I was trying to prove my mother wrong, but in the process, I was learning there were other parents out there like me looking for answers for children who were slipping through the cracks. I was reading any and every book on autism, while at the same time calling specialists and trying to get an appointment for my daughter to be seen.

Most of the experts had a six-to-nine month wait. I ended up getting to know the receptionists on a first name basis as I called two to three times a week looking for any cancellations that would allow me to get Aleks into an appointment sooner. The quest to find answers felt like a full-time job, but I was also working full-time as a morning show host on KS95 in Minneapolis, plus developing a new morning show. I look back and know God gave me the strength and stamina to get through that time. I was running on very little sleep and incredible stress, but I was absolutely convicted that autism was not going to be the end of Aleks’ story. I believed in God’s healing, and I believed there were answers out there if I could just find them.

After many months of calling doctors, we finally got Aleks into an autism specialist at a local hospital. We were expecting definitive answers and an action plan, but all we walked out with was a lukewarm diagnosis and an appointment for a brain scan that to complete the diagnosis. (FYI, I have since learned the brain scan is for research and not for a diagnosis or treatment.) This was the defining moment in our story with autism.

In the days leading up to that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), my husband had an incredibly strong feeling we weren’t supposed to sedate her and go through with the MRI. At the same time, I was reading Jenny McCarthy’s book, “Louder than Words – A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism.” By the grace of God, I listened to my husband, and we cancelled the MRI the afternoon before it was scheduled. Then I started looking into Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) doctors and trying to find one in our area. Finally, I found a DAN! doctor who not only didn’t have a six month wait, but returned my call herself and gave me her personal cell phone number. During our first meeting with Dr. Spore, we found out sedation for autistic children is dangerous and could have led to further problems and increased regression.

Thank you God for putting doubt on my husband’s heart!

At the same time we started meeting with Dr. Spore, we finally got an appointment at Children’s Hospital with a speech therapist (ST) who specialized in treating children with autism. The first meeting with our ST, Susan, Aleks screamed, hid in a corner, and banged on the drums in her office the entire session. As parents, the session felt hopeless, and we questioned what Susan was trying to do. But Susan saw hope; her ways ended up being the perfect path for Aleks.

Aleks worked with Susan twice a week for the next three plus years. When Aleks finally graduated from speech therapy, she hugged Susan, looked her in the eyes (something that wasn’t possible at first), and we all cried together.

God’s grace and healing is all over Aleks’ story, from the dark days of our quest for a diagnosis to the first conversation I had with my daughter when she was four years old. God is good. With bio-medical therapies and testing, changes in her diet based upon these tests, speech, physical and occupational therapies at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, regular chiropractic care, and an hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) chamber in our basement for a month – we have seen healing.

Today, I have a daughter who is in a regular second-grade class and just received a report card that would equal almost all As & Bs.

When we first moved to Minneapolis, I couldn’t figure out why God would move us so far away from any friends or family. I know without a doubt it was to save my daughter. God sprinkled His grace along the way in so many big and little ways. My husband was able to stay home and take our daughter to Children’s Hospital four times a week. The Children’s Hospital clinic just happened to be a little over a mile away from our new home. We bought the home not knowing we would ever need the hospital’s services, let alone as often as we would. Our new home also happened to be in an incredible school district where the school psychologist actually came to our home and gave Aleks her educational diagnosis, which allowed her into a special preschool in our district.

Once again, God’s grace and plan was all over our lives. The move to Minneapolis wasn’t about my career or moving into a major market and building a number-one-rated morning show after all — although, that ended up being a blessing as well because it allowed me to share Aleks’ story and help other families throughout the state. The move to Minneapolis was about saving my daughter’s life from the noose of autism.

Disclaimer: AUTHENTIK magazine neither supports nor denies the premise that autism is caused by vaccinations. We recognize each person with autism is different and unique. 

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