Note: Since this is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, I am yielding my space to Se’Lisa Scott to do an article.

By Se’Lisa Y. Scott,
Wife of Councilman Archie Scott and Founder of YANA Special Needs Support Group
Have you ever wondered why it seems that some parents can not control their child’s behavior? Imagine going to Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon and you are walking behind a mother and her son.  Without warning, the child starts throwing what appears to be a temper tantrum.  He’s starts flapping his hands, jumping, hitting, and scratching his mother.  He then falls to the floor holding his ears and screaming to the top of his voice.  All the while, the mother remains calm as she tries to comfort her child.  You may have thoughts or comments like: Woman, are you crazy?  Why are you letting your child do that to you?  You need to discipline him!  Did you ever think to take a closer look that there may be something more going on with the child than it appears to be?  Did you ever think that there is a medical cause for the child’s sudden outburst, tantrum, or meltdown?  Did you ever think that the child could have AUTISM.

According to the South Carolina Autism Society, autism is a developmental disability that appears during the first three years of a child’s life.  Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain.  It impacts development in social interaction and communication skills.   It is also the presence of unusual behaviors and interests like repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines.  The latest statistics by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) identify 1in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum.  It is still more common in boys that it is in girls.  It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social economic groups.  Symptoms are very mild, moderate, and severe.
This topic of autism is very dear to my husband and I.  Our youngest son, Ephraim, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.   There were no complications during the pregnancy or at his birth.  However, things started to seem a little different with him.  We noticed that he was not meeting certain milestones.  He was not talking.   Also, when we called his name, he appeared not to hear us.  After getting his hearing tested, we received the results that his hearing was fine.   I was later advised by our co-pastor, Dr. Louise Goings, to get him tested for autism.  Of course, I did not know what to think or say.  Holding back the tears, I told her that I would.  After searching the internet about autism (a word that I was not familiar with at all), I was overwhelmed to know that our son had some of the characteristics.  My inner thoughts were what to do and where do I go from here?  Of course, I made an appointment with his pediatrician.  She then referred me to a Developmental Specialist.  After the testing, I was told, “Your son has Infantile Autism”.  While the doctor was talking, my mind was whirling.  How could this be? What did I do wrong?  Although, I was strong in my faith and knew that God said He would never leave nor forsake me, I felt so alone.  I did not know what to do or where to turn.  Also, in my research, I discovered when you are in a crisis such as this; it is beneficial to find a support group.  I started attending the Autism Support Group in Florence.  I felt the need to be around others who understood what I was going through.  I was truly blessed by attending the first meeting.  I felt such a sense of relief to be in the company of other parents and their children.  After a few meetings, I wondered about other families in our community who had children with autism or any type of disability. Surely, they could benefit from a support group, too.   Therefore, in August 2006, Y.A.N.A. (You Are Not Alone) Special Needs Support Group was birthed.  We had our first meeting with families from within our community.  They were grateful to have a support group in our area.  Y.A.N.A. is a Christian based support group for families of children with unique challenges (special needs) regardless of age, race, diagnosis or religion.  We meet to strengthen and encourage parents, grandparents, caregivers and supporters.  We provide workshops, banquets, movie nights, and family fun day. We believe that God has a plan and destiny for our children.  Our desire is for all parents who have children with any type of unique challenge/special need (such as: autism, cerebral palsy, etc.) know that they are not alone.
Although, Ephraim is now 14 years old, he still has some challenges, but none can out way our expectations for his continual growth and development.  As his parents, we refuse to let autism define him.  He is first our son.  He happens to have autism.  We are his voice and #1 advocates.  Our advice to parents who may be feeling something just isn’t right; please get your child tested, so that you will know what direction to go in to get the help he/she needs.  Early intervention is highly recommended for children with autism.
By providing this information, it is our hope to help increase your awareness and acceptance about autism.  Remember there are 1 in 68 children with autism in the United States.  Our son along with others children in our community is among them.  To our county/community at large, please be compassionate and understanding towards families and children who are affected by autism (as well as other unique challenges/disabilities). Lori McIIwain from the National Autism Association once shared a quote by Fred Rogers, “We live in a world on which we need to share responsibility.  It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my problem.”  Then there are those who see the need and respond.  I consider these people my heroes.”
Since April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, please take time and take a closer look at A U T I S M.    Everyone is invited to join Y.A.N.A. Special Needs Support Group as we take a closer look at autism in our community.  We will be hosting our annual Autism Awareness & Acceptance Event: Let’s Talk about Autism, on Saturday, April 23rd at 3 p.m. at Outreach Family Fellowship, 136 Pee Dee Church Road, Dillon, S.C.  Other parents from our community will be sharing their stories along with information.  This is a free event.  Children are invited.  For further information, please call (843) 845-1313.  Also for additional information about autism, visit: S.C. Autism Society, Autism Speaks, etc.