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In Their Own Words – Focusing on the “Cans”

This “In Their Own Words” essay was submitted by Teresa Greenwood of Hays, Kansas, who has a daughter with autism.

This was my first celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. A year ago I didn’t know that April 2 was anything other than another day on the calendar.

Did I ever think about autism before my two-year-old daughter was diagnosed – no. Sure, I’d heard of it, and I sympathized with families that “had to deal” with a child with a disability. I did not know anyone with a child with autism, however. And I never would have thought it would affect my family, but it has.

Morgan’s diagnosis, and her progress since then, has changed my life for the better. I have more patience than ever before, and more understanding that we have to cherish every blessing we have. I am blessed to have Morgan in my life, and I would not change her in any way. Also, I am blessed with three other children who love their sister and embrace her diagnosis.

Of course, I grieve for the child she could have been without autism, but I also recognize the amazing child she is with it. When I drop her off at daycare and another two year old says “Hi, what’s your name?” I am reminded that Morgan only occasionally says “Momma” and mostly babbles without words. I know that she may never be fully verbal and will probably be in special education classes in school. The odds are she will never live independently. When she becomes excited or upset she will flap her arms uncontrollably. She easily becomes overwhelmed to where she has to drop to her knees and suck on her fingers. She is an extremely picky eater, like most people who have autism, and she has trouble sleeping at times. But I do not dwell on the “can’ts” and the “nevers.” I focus on the “cans.”

Morgan transformed from completely nonverbal with little eye contact to a bright child who babbles constantly. She will hold a pig and say “oink oink.” She will hold a cow and say “mooooo.” She also has a sheep, which says “baaaa.” She holds these animals to a toy hay bale to make them eat. She now waves bye-bye on occassion, and she has used some of the sign language she has learned. She will make a spider sign when she wants to sing “Itsy bitsy spider.” And she will pull her sisters’ hair if they get too close. She will run to her daddy when it is time to pray, and she will come crawl in bed with us in the middle of the night.

Morgan thrives in her therapy and learns quickly. And I can’t thank her therapists enough for taking the time to work with her, to help her become the person she was meant to be. Early intervention is key to successfully living with autism, and Morgan was fortunate enough to be able to experience that.

I watched a video of a speech by Temple Grandin, who has her doctorate’s degree and is a published author … and who also has autism. HBO recently made a movie about her, which I have yet to see. Watching the real Temple give a speech about her life with autism – and her successes since her diagnosis – gives me such hope that there is a place in this world for my daughter’s beautiful mind.

I sympathize with the people glaring at us in church because Morgan is holding her toy cow in the air and yelling “moooooo!” But I am not sorry, because to me there is not a more beautiful sound in the world than my autistic daughter finally finding her voice and saying words. Even if it’s barnyard talk.

On World Autism Awareness Day,  remember autism, and the millions of families affected by this spectrum disorder. Research is continuing so that hopefully, someday, more can be understood about this mystifying disabiliity. Until then, I will continue to grin at my daughter while she talks to her farm animals, being extremely proud of all she has accomplished at such a young age.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. Debra Stewart
    June 27, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Teresa thank you for sharing your story! Early intervention is crucial. We’ve seen a tremendous improvement with our 4 1/2 yr. son who has ASD since he began school and OT/ST. Wishing you continued success with Morgan!

  2. June 27, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Thank-you so much for sharing. I also didnt know that April 2 was World Autisim Awareness Day. My son vincent is 13yrs old . He was nonverbal until he was about 6 1/2 yrs old. He also has OT/ST His speach is not perfect and we still have some trouble understanding what he is sayng. I wouldnt change anything about our lives and living with autisim for anything. We did get early intervention however, i didnt work our so well for us. From reading this website i didnt know there was so much out there for children with autisim like my Vincent. We have not found anything in our area but are still looking. He goes to a Life Skills school and has made so progress but i am going to start not only sending him to school but also working with him using the method of teaching his devlopmental ped. has suggested. I found so much material on the internet that he has never been exposed to. I hope by sending him to school and also teaching him at home he will learn alot more. Thanks for sharing and good luck to you and your family!! It sounds as if Morgan is really making great progress God Bless you and your family.

  3. ileana morales
    June 27, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Teresa. I love your story.It’s a very positive message: “focusing on the “cans”.My son David is now 17 years old, and at the age of 10, he only spoke 3 to 4 words…now ,he doesn’t stop talking!!!.and He is very social.- Many times I suffered, because I thought he’ll never be able to have an independent life…but now I know HE CAN!!!!

  4. June 27, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story! I feel the same way. My son has done everything they told me he would never do when he was diagnosed at age 3. He’s 9 now. I was so inspired by his progress, especially with communication, that I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about finding his words, called, “Tyler’s Magic Word Box.” You can find it here if you’re interested in reading it: http://web.mac.com/g.horgan.portfolio/iWeb/Site/Magic%20Word%20Box.html

    I welcome any feedback and please share with anyone you think would enjoy the story or find hope by reading it. Teresa, I also have a FB page, “words4autism” where we share good news and all our “cans”. Please feel free to visit and keep the inspiration coming!

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Words-4-Autism/323956325331?ref=ts

    Gilda Horgan

  5. Stan Shupe
    June 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Teresa,

    I am not surprised that you have tenaciously reacted to this event in you and your husband’s life. Little Morgan is very lucky to have such great parents, who did not bury their heads in the sand. I do not have a child with autism but over the years, I have learned about a lot about autism. I also interact with autism almost on a daily basis. Early intervention is very important for Morgan and her future. I commend you for your involvement and for taking the time to do what needs to be done.

    As far as it goes, I commend all of you that have made autism a personal crusade. I for one wish autism could be eradicated from the face of the earth. “But I do not dwell on the “can’ts” and the “nevers.” I focus on the “cans.” Of course, I think this describes your attitude toward your entire life. Hang in there my friend great article Morgan is very lucky.

    Stan

  6. June 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Teresa,

    What a great story of inspiration for people who struggle with autism! Thank you for the reminder to consistently encourage them.

    From my own experiences with living with my brother with autism, Scott, I have also seen the need for patience. Sometimes, he goes through many “ups and downs” and acts abnormally many times. He has gone through numerous hospitalizations and, consequently, I had to eat many foods that were abnormal for me in order to accommodate his dietary needs for family meals. During those difficulties, patience and love were absolutely essential!

    Did I think he would get through those difficulties and graduate from high school and move on to college and run collegiate cross-country? No, but he did! Your story, coupled with my experiences with my brother, really help me to realize that people with autism can have great potential.

    Timothy

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