“Autumn. What comes to mind when you hear the word? Orange, brown, falling leaves. Thanksgiving, maybe? Autumn has another significance for our family.
She is our firstborn bundle of awesomeness and quite severe Autism. Autumn is diagnosed with Autism and Intellectual disability. She loves being in the water, tickles from her mom and dad, playing chase with her brother, organizing all the books and DVDs in the house, watching her fave Disney movies and Wonder Pets episodes over and over, going through drive thru’s to get anything that tastes close to diet Coke, running free at the beach, swings, crash pads, long rides, iPad, iPhone, puzzles, bath time, matching, play with her dog Billie, going on walks, and eating mostly anything with cheese and peanut butter…. She’s like any other little girl, just more vulnerable and quite mysterious.
I was approached by her third-grade teacher a few weeks into that school year with what I guess was somewhat of a proposition. ‘Have you ever considered putting Autumn on medication?’ she asked. ‘It’s really worked wonders for so-and-so.’
I was taken aback and just smiled while completely dismissing the preposterous question in my mind. ‘Yeah right, no thanks,’ I thought. I couldn’t even believe she asked me, to be perfectly honest. I think my husband and I just responded with something like, ‘Interesting.’ The thought to put Autumn on medication had never seriously entered our minds.
I felt terrible. Is my child so bad that her teacher would suggest such a thing? This is the same school and classroom that locked Autumn outside in the rain in the first grade when a substitute was having a hard time with her, all while the classroom staff who worked with her every day stood idly by and watched. Thankfully, I was on campus and was able to hear her screams that led me to her… It was traumatic, not just for my sweet Autumn, but for her little brother as well. She was 6 years old at the time and Dean was 4.
Needless to say, we had a contentious relationship with the school thereafter. We even went so far as to hire an attorney. But we realized no attorney would be able to help or fix these problems with the school. These problems were not just about my child. These are deep-rooted problems that likely go back decades in the district and since the beginning of time elsewhere. Autumn was being mistreated and neglected at school and she was not the only one. We had to move. We needed to be done with the district for good. No turning back.
So we did. We had just moved with a fresh start. We worked and prayed so hard to get our new home and location for our children. Autumn’s now 10 and Dean 7. So, here we are, just moved into this beautiful home with a pool, great location, great schools, and to my surprise, a loving teacher for our sweet Autumn. Isn’t it disturbing a zip code can determine whether your child gets a free and appropriate public education? If I’m being honest with you, it felt too good to be true. Coming from where we came from, this was farfetched!
The day finally came… Autumn’s first day at her new school. She walked up with such confidence. I’ll never forget it. She is a big girl now and reminds me of it every day. Autumn is nonverbal and has limited communication. Believe me, despite this, the girl has a lot to say! I was nervous to leave her, but she walked straight in and showed me she can do it, middle of the second semester and all! She did the same thing, day after day. I was so proud to see her get up and show out day after day. She loved her new classroom and she was so happy!
This went on for a total of 4 whole days before the district shut down in-person instruction due to Covid-19. We loved everything we had seen in our short time at the new school but were not looking forward to online instruction. We had just spent the first half of the year trying out a distance homeschooling model, which was nice at first but ultimately did not serve Autumn’s needs well enough. She has enough of a challenge communicating with people who are physically present with her, the added challenge of using technology as a medium had worn her out. This is another example of why we had been so overjoyed by Autumn’s small sample size of success at her new school. She was back to a traditional model where she was more comfortable and successful. Now with the pandemic, she picked up right where she left off with homeschooling… unhappy and irritable.
I used to be a mom that didn’t believe in medication. I hate to admit I am guilty of judging other parents and caretakers that did. My outlook completely changed when Covid-19 hit. Spring of 2020 was, undoubtedly, one of the hardest times of my life. Everything shut down, stores, parks, beaches, movie theaters, salons, restaurants, doctors’ offices… it was like the world had stopped. There was no help or respite. I could only imagine what was racing through Autumns’ young mind. She was disregulated to the max. Nothing was the same everything was different. I imagine she felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath her.
She’s now showing early signs of puberty and her emotions fluctuate with her moods. She would be okay one moment and then screaming hysterically the next. We had boxes all over the house. Dean was falling more behind in school with each day that passed. Dad had just started a new job with the county. Autumn’s aggressive behaviors increased. It resulted in either myself, Dean, or the dog getting hurt. She would eventually exhibit behaviors that could no longer be ignored. When glass started breaking and laptops went flying, I knew it was time for help. She was putting herself and everyone else in the house in real danger. I needed help.
To be perfectly honest, I looked into medical cannabis and CBD, but it was really expensive and not approved by the FDA for Autism. So here I am online looking up medications for Autism. From what I saw, there were really only two that are recommended and approved by the FDA for Autism. After days, nights, cuts, bruises, and lots of contemplation, I finally got the courage to call her doctor. It had to be over the phone since we are now in Covid times. I explained to her what was going on in our home. Her doctor asked, ‘What medication?’ I replied with ‘Abilify,’ since it had the least side effects. She was in agreement and started her on the lowest dose.
We started with half of that to begin with and gradually increased as needed. To my disbelief, I started seeing a different side of Autumn. She was calm and seemed to be at ease. Her aggressive behaviors subsided and so did the throwing of large objects. Her communication improved (that’s a whole other story). The medicine helped. I will never look at medication the same after that. Can medication be abused or misused? Absolutely. But it can help too.
I was able to get us on a routine, we enjoyed swimming for long hours to keep active, Dean was able to get caught up, and I didn’t feel like I was walking on eggshells, day in and day out. I felt like I could breathe again… we ended up having a nice summer despite Covid. It is not something I would suggest unless all other options available have failed or as they say use in-conjunction with other therapies for the best outcome, which is what we did. It helped her so much when August came around and it was back to school virtually. Every morning, like clockwork, she was ready. I was so proud of her and still am!
Her district would eventually bring special education students back shortly after. Autumn was still doing well on Abilify and I believe it helped make this transition very smooth, or at least what smooth looks like for us. Don’t get me wrong, does Abilify take Autism away? Duh, no! Heck no! Nor would I want it too. I just want my girl to be happy and safe. Soon after the back to school transition, I could see Autumn was getting very comfortable and confident in her routine. Were things perfect? No, they rarely are with severe Autism. But things were better and for an Autism family, that is enough. Abilify is not recommended for long time use. At around 5 or 6 months, we started the weaning process. All went well and Autumn is now off her meds!
We are now in January of 2021 and are feeling very optimistic for the future! Autumn is doing great in school. She has her moments, but don’t we all? Aren’t we allowed to? So goes life. At the end of the day, nobody knows your child better than you! You are your child’s biggest advocate. Trust that gut feeling, it doesn’t lie.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Autumns_road_2_discovery. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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