The Unseen Side of Autism

COLLEGE STATION -- One in 68 - that's the number of children nationally diagnosed with autism.

The number continues rising and though there isn't a firm count in the Brazos Valley, doctors have noted the number of families with autistic children is growing. Among them is the Day family.

Aimee and her husband Chris have two energetic and curious boys: eight-year-old Ty and nine-year-old John.

While each of her boys has his own personality and pace for developmental milestones, Aimee noticed some differences in Ty when he was two.

"He didn't really speak. He spoke maybe one or two words. He never responded to his name. He wouldn't really look at me," said Aimee.
"By the grace of God I was at the computer one day. Yahoo News popped up and it was an article about if your child is not doing certain things by the age of two, the pediatrician should check for signs of autism. And I had no idea what autism was."

Autism affects how the brain processes information. The disorder can impact the way a person communicates and relates to others, creating challenges for families.

Trips to the park weren't always possible because of a fear Ty would wander off alone. Family movie night could end with one son feeling neglected.

"Five minutes in to the movie I'd have to go to the hallway with his brother so that he could walk up and down the theater. So my older son would be watching the movie all alone. And it broke my heart," said Aimee.

"It happens all the time. And that's one of the concerns that our families have. Sometimes our families feel very isolated," said Dr. Amy Heath.

Dr. Heath is the director of the Autism Clinic at the Brazos Valley Rehabilitation Center in Bryan.

"I can't give you like a set number of this is how many individuals in the Brazos Valley are affected by autism, but there's a lot. We have a very large population," said Dr. Heath.

Several years ago, five pre-schoolers were receiving treatment at the clinic. Now nearly 40 children and young adults are learning strategies to help them cope with the differences that impact their lives.

"I think that's the balance that we play is helping them learn how to cope with the differences and the struggles that they're having, but teaching them that you are a wonderful person," said Dr. Heath.

Balance is also key for Aimee. Her goal with the years of therapy Ty's received is to help him, not change him.

Aimee is now in charge of a local autism support group that was formed in 2007. Families of Autistic Children Engaged Together for Support or FACETS is a group that offers social opportunities, support and educational resources for families of children and adults on the autism spectrum.

Links to the group's website and Facebook page are below.