Did you know that the definition of COURAGE is having the strength to overcome fear and carry on against difficulties? Doing what you are afraid of! When I think of courage, I think of my son and all the other people on the AUTISM spectrum, they are the most courageous people I know!
Joel was diagnosed at the age of three. It seemed that overnight he went from a calm, happy child to one who was screaming all the time. We felt like someone had kidnapped our beautiful boy and we just wanted him back. Our world was turned upside down trying to find the answers to help our son. Everyday was spent doing therapy, seeing doctors, and putting into practice what we had learned. It amazed me the perseverance Joel had through it all, even though we continually pushed him to grow. He was diagnosed with severe anxiety at age 5 y/o, at this point we couldn't take him anywhere without him having a panic attack. This had a lot to do with his sensory processing disorder that comes along with autism. This is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in from the senses. For Joel everything was painfully loud, bright, dizzying to look at with too much information coming at him, (think teacups at Disneyland, on super speed with bright lights and loud music!), it was too much. Thankfully Joel has bravely made so much progress in this area, and we are so proud of him.
I always knew Joel was bright and intelligent, even though it took him longer to talk he still learned the alphabet and would form all the letters out with sticks, rocks, or toys! He was SO curious, always wanting to learn new things. School was always a challenge for him, dealing with the sensory issues, (remember the teacups, now add little children to the equation!), and he was also diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia (writing disability). The school district just did not have the ability to help him, he left feeling “stupid” and having gained anxiety issues about school. Joel entered another school for two years that had special education, here he did learn to read but was bullied, and the school disregarded him as “unable to learn”. I absolutely knew this was not true and that we just had not found a school that knew how to teach him correctly! I stepped out in faith on that slim thread of hope and found another school for Joel. The second year he was there he went up THREE grade levels in all subjects!!! He stopped saying he was stupid everyday and grew in confidence! Wherever you are at there is always HOPE, don't give up!
Joel has a very sweet, gentle, and generous nature. He always amazes me with how willing he is to freely share with others. Unfortunately, some take advantage of this. Joel was assaulted on the school bus this year, which led to some crippling anxiety. When we notified the school of what was happening, though they found video evidence, they did not remove the offender from Joel's classroom. Because of this he could continue harassing Joel in the classroom setting. At this point we were advised by Joel's Dr. that we needed to remove Joel from this school, that he was having a PTSD like reaction from the assault and continued bulling, without support from the staff. It's hard to express just how painful it is to watch your child suffer like this. I knew I could not give up hope, as previous experience had taught me, the answers were out there and God would be with us.
We were so grateful to find Brightmont, where Joel could learn in a 1:1 setting and thrilled that they had a scholarship through TeamWinfrey. Through there are still challenging days ahead of us, the future now seems possible. We feel hopeful that Joel will have a safe place to continue his education while he recovers. Thank you for taking the time to read this and supporting those on the spectrum! If we all do a little we can change the world, one kindness at a time.
-- Julie Eigsti