There was something different about Jack

There was something different about Jack

What is autism? Autism spectrum disorder, often referred to as ASD is a life-long neurological disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people and world around them. ASD can affect behavior, social interactions, and one’s ability to communicate verbally. In Ontario, there are an estimated 100,000 people with autism.

I am a single mom of an amazing son named Jack. He is 5 and he has autism.

I always knew there was something different about Jack, right from the start. He was delayed in almost every milestone, from sitting to crawling, etc. Then some family members started throwing around the word “autism” and I was definitely in denial and wanted to prove them wrong, so I sought out my family doctor’s opinion. To make a long story short, Jack was diagnosed at 18 months and I am so happy that I had such an early diagnosis as I was able to get his name on the waitlist for help at a much earlier age. At the time I really didn’t want to believe something was "wrong" with my child. You give birth and have all these hopes and dreams of all the things your child is going to accomplish and then once you get that diagnosis, you mourn all the things he isn’t going to get to do or the life you thought you were going to have.

Life with a child with ASD can be very difficult. Simple daily outings need so much planning. Jack has many words, but doesn’t use them in a communicative way. So for the most part, he’s “non-verbal’. He is 5 but developmentally  only around 2-3 years old. Transitions are extremely difficult for us. He doesn’t understand what is happening next and often freaks out when he has to leave somewhere he is having fun. I often have to carry him to and from places kicking and screaming. Over the years, I’ve developed a thick skin and can tune out other people’s stares and comments. Because he looks “normal’, people are very judgemental when his behaviour is not what people expect. He is not a bad boy, he has autism. We have participated in many community events such as swimming, soccer and gymnastics but honestly have found that they are not equipped to handle children with special needs. I’ve experienced comments from staff saying, “It’s sad God did this to him” or staff completely ignoring us because maybe they had no training or had no idea how to incorporate us with the rest of the kids because my son wasn’t doing what all the other kids were doing.

So this year, Jack was finally old enough to participate in Autism Ontario – Niagara Chapter’s Summer Camp. Knowing that my son was going to a place where the staff is fully trained, where the staff want to work with kids with ASD was so exciting for me. I knew that he would be in good hands, that he would be supported, encouraged and given every opportunity to shine. And not just given an I-Pad and let him watch videos until I pick him up again. United Way’s support for the camp provides 1:1 support staff. This is huge as my son requires constant supervision and to have to pay that out of pocket for another community camp would be too expensive and not something I could afford as I imagine it would make the cost of camp more than double to supply a support worker. I knew that every day Jack would have so much fun. He took a bus for the very first time and actually stayed in the seat. They went swimming and went to Safari Niagara. They did all kinds of fun activities at the school too. For example, they did crafts, sensory activities, group games and even sang camp songs. Every day I dropped him off and every day I picked him up, he had a smile on his face. I had a stress-free, anxiety-free week, not worrying that I was going to get a phone call to come and pick him up because they couldn’t handle him. I am not only grateful for United Way and their commitment to Autism Ontario’s Niagara Chapter’s summer camp program but also grateful to everyone who supports them. Your contribution helps so many families and makes our lives a little easier.

Jacqueline & Jack