A staggering number of children are affected by autism worldwide, however, the challenges mothers face while raising autistic children are not fully understood.
One in 68 children are affected by autism. This figure continues to grow. Helon Navarro’s son Lukas Dolan, is one of the countless children diagnosed each year. Lukas was diagnosed at a mere 13 months old. He is now undergoing treatment at The Emerge Center in Baton Rouge.
At the age of about ten months, Lukas began to exhibit behaviors that made his mother nervous. He did not play with toys in the way many children normally would. She explained that rather than playing with his toy cars, he flipped them over and watched the wheels spin. As he grew mesmerized by the spinning motion, she realized that the motion stimulated him. Aside from these signs, most heartbreaking was Lukas’s disinclination to make eye contact with his mother.
Lukas’s pediatrician, Dr.Amanda Talbot, acknowledged several developmental delays, and recommended a specialist. Navarro brought her son to a developmental behavioral specialist, Dr. Steven Felix. Dr. Felix diagnosed Lukas with sensory disorder, delayed developmental milestones, fine motor delay and autism on Jan. 6, 2016. Despite her suspicion of this possibility, the diagnosis was shocking.
Early treatment began with in-home speech therapists. He also attended therapy at Moreau Pediatric Therapy Center. Though Lukas’ frustration was evident in the beginning, his communication skills began to improve.
Dr. Felix recommended that Navarro enroll her son at The Emerge Center in Baton Rouge which, according to their website, is “dedicated to optimizing independent communication and social interactions skills.” Lukas began group speech in July of 2016 for 45 minutes a day, once a week. He later became a part of a Transdisciplinary Autism Program which was comprised of speech, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis. The routine that The Emerge Center provided for Lukas proved to be beneficial and offered physical and social independence. Navarro praises the staff for “knowing him on a personal level.”
Despite Lukas’s obvious growth and improvement, Navarro still faces many obstacles on a daily basis. Being a single parent “has taken a toll on both of us,” Navarro said. Explaining to a child why his parents are no longer under the same roof was difficult for Navarro, especially considering Lukas’ trouble communicating. She turned to her mother and father for support. Like many other mothers raising autistic children, Navarro says that she “couldn’t do it alone.”
A devastating flood that took place in recent months made it difficult for Lukas to adapt to home life. Flooding forced the family to move into Navarro’s parents’ home, and this major change has caused Lukas to show some signs of regression.
Fortunately for Navarro, being an employee at LSU allows her to get financial aid at The Emerge Center so her money out of pocket is a reasonable price. However, not all families affected by autism are so lucky. On average, autism costs a family $60,000 yearly.
Many caregivers fear that an autistic child’s inability to communicate will affect the relationship with each other. When asked how she maintains a happy, healthy relationship with Lukas, Navarro explains although he can’t express his wants and needs, “a mother knows her child.” Navarro gained the ability to decipher her child’s different types of sounds and cries. When an attempt to teach Lukas sign language was unsuccessful, therapists encouraged him to use simpler gestures, such as pointing, to communicate.
Lukas can now speak up to 80 words, along with three word phrases. By the age of five, therapists and specialists predict that Lukas will be fully functioning. He will be integrated into non-special needs classes and eventually attend public school. Navarro is “extremely concerned” about relapses and bullying, but will continue to be optimistic and support her child in every way possible.
Although Autism is a disorder that will be challenging for both the diagnosed and their families, Navarro and Lukas are proof that patience and early treatment is extremely beneficial. “Autism is a journey not planned,” Navarro says, “but I sure do love my tour guide!”
Check out The Emerge Center’s Facebook page for more information on treatment, or to contact other patients and families affiliated with the center.