Everyone knows that each child develops at his or her own rate and that no comparisons should be made.
“I couldn’t help it. Cohen was our first child and I was going to baby groups. I sensed something was different early on,” said Risa Eyers. “He held his head up in the first couple of weeks. He seemed older, even as a baby, and he was very alert and aware. He was an easy baby but as a toddler there were behavioural challenges.”
Cohen, now eight, and a Grade 3 student at Silver Star school, agrees.
“I like to take things apart. Toys, just everything around the house,” he said, looking up from his handheld video game.
Risa said Cohen was always on the move and interested in everything that moved even when he didn’t appear focused.
“He taught himself to read when he was two and has always spoken very well from a young age but he had challenges in dealing with stimulation,” she said.
Risa did as much research as she could on Autism Spectrum Disorder and starting with the help of her family doctor, got the diagnosis when Cohen was three.
“It was very difficult to get that diagnosis. There were tears. Then anger. Then it hit me on the head. The life you are expecting would be completely different and that is upsetting and scary.”
With the diagnosis came support, NONA (North Okanagan Neurological Association) provided a one-on-one support worker and helped with information.
“As parents we could only do so much,” said Risa. She and her husband, Don, had a second son, Dixon, now five, who had health concerns by then.
“We learned that a child’s outside behaviour might look different but be their way of dealing with stress. We were able to see the early signs of frustration and things getting out of control and help Cohen start to recognize his feelings and what he could do for himself. It is difficult but he’s an amazing kid, so sharp and clever and funny.”
The family tried the different therapies available and stayed with those they could see helped most.
“We both work full time and we found we were doing a lot of therapy so we decided we would have more family time.
“Dixon is an intelligent, charming boy and the brothers love each other. They play computer games, do crafts together and Cohen reads a lot. He’s doing well in school this year and has made more friends.”
Cohen, who is in the Montessori program at school, likes writing on the computer and did a detailed report on the life cycle of the salmon for one project. He is in Olympic Reading at the public library and the Battle of the Books reading program at school. He also sings in a choir and plays hockey.
“I made a coding system with animation and voice-over for the school last year. It was amazing. My project won the primary media category,” said Cohen.
The Eyers family is getting on with life.
“It’s important to me to be in contact with adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and see what works for them. They have a different perspective. We want Cohen to learn self-management in ways that work for him and to be a self advocate,” she said.
“I am very hopeful for Cohen’s future because there is so much research being done and the school system is accommodating different learning styles. We’re all learning. I’m really proud of how he is doing now.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Vernon’s second annual Autism Awareness Walk and BBQ takes place Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Polson Park with lots of treats provided for everyone from community sponsors. People are encouraged to wear blue and/or to put a blue light in or on their home to show their support.
Editor’s note: Light it Up Blue was launched by Autism Speaks in 2010 in support of World Autism Awareness Day which takes place April 2. Iconic landmarks around the world Light It Up Blue in celebration of World Autism Awareness Day to show their support. This year, more than 16,000 buildings around the world were illuminated in blue to shine a bright light on autism, including the Empire State Building in New York City and the Great Sphinx and Great Pyramids in Egypt.