Redmond family talks about autism's challenges

Fourth-grader says: 'Just don't give up and do your best'

April is Autism Awareness Month

REDMOND, Ore. - April is Autism Awareness Month. It's a disability that calls for increased recognition, as one in 88 children have autism, according to the National Autism Association.

One Redmond family knows the struggles and benefits of having a child with autism.

"Well, that day was September 19, 2007," Kimberly Barrett said Friday.

That was the day Barrett found out her son, Daniel, has autism.

"It's kind of a hidden disability for many kids, until they have their breakdown," said Cindy Scholz, special education teacher for the Redmond School District.

It is associated characteristics such as less advanced social skills, getting distracted from people easily, being choice of hearing in some occasions -- even not making eye contact. It is also diagnosed four times as often in boys than girls.

Parents react differently to finding out their child has autism. For Kimberly and Grant Barrett, it was a mix of emotions.

"It was a little upsetting, but they gave me a solution," Kimberly Barrett said.

She said while she was concerned that her child might never be "normal," she was glad to finally know what was going on and how to ultimately help her child.

The solution specialists offered first was early intervention. From kindergarten to third grade, her son enrolled in a program through the Redmond School District specifically designed for kids with autism.

"It helps each individual child get to the point where they can function in a regular classroom," Kimberly Barrett said.

Cindy Scholz, the teacher for this class at Sage Elementary, said all children have different needs so the program is made to help each child specifically, whether it be with motor skills, verbal skills, etc. Daniel, now in the third grade, is successfully taking classes with children not diagnosed with autism and succeeding.

While this program helps educate children and teachers in the schools about how to handle autism, there is still need for more public awareness.

"My son was having a meltdown, and a lady out of the blue started reprimanding my son," Grant Barrett said.

Grant Barrett was in Walmart when his son got upset. When Daniel gets upset, Grant said, it's normal for him to lose control of his words. To some, it might seem disrespectful.

Instead of being able to help his son, Grant said he too became upset with a complete stranger stepping in. He said Daniel's feelings were hurt as well.

Barrett went out and bought special cards to show people who feel the need to step in, instead of getting angry. He just wants people to know there is a story that they aren't aware of.

The card reads, "My child is not spoiled, my child has autism. My child is not misbehaving, my child has autism."

It's tough, because it's a disability that has no face, meaning many children with autism look completely normal. Plus, it comes with weaknesses, but it also comes with many strengths.

"Many of my kids are very good at academics -- just not on the playground," Scholz said.

Daniel has many talents of his own.

"I'm awesome at dancing," Daniel said.

He also said he's good at computers, math and science.

Daniel is aware that he has autism, and he has advice for others like him as well. It's advice though, that can apply to us all.

"I just want you to know, if any of you have autism, and you're in the fourth grade, I know how hard fourth grade is," Daniel said. "Just don't give up, and do your best."

Learn more about autism in the interactive graphic linked to beside this story.

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