April is National Autism Awareness Month-an opportunity to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.â€¨
â€¨According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence in autism has risen to one in every 88 births in the US today. The Autism Society states that approximately 1.5 million Americans are currently living with the effects of the autism spectrum disorder.â€¨
LeFlore County isn't any different than any other part of the U.S. and there are a number of families who deal with the autism spectrum on a daily basis.
Jennifer Edwards and her family are one of them. Jennifer is an employee of the Mini-Penny which shares an office with the PDN. She has three sons, Gabriel, Bradley and Wesley. According to Jennifer her boys are alike in many ways and also very different in many ways. Her middle son Bradley is what is refferred to as on the spectrum.
Bradley Evan Edwards was born on April 19, 2004. Jennifer said she noticed things that were different about the little red headed baby almost immediately. "When he was trying to sleep he would shake his head from side to side for hours," she said. "He was an infant so at first I thought it was just his way of fighting sleep."
Edwards said that as Bradley began to toddle about she also noticed that he was clumsy and accident prone.
"I know all babies are clumsy when they are learning to walk but this was more than that," she said.
It seemed that Bradley was always running into things and getting pump knots on his head. Like many babies he didn't seem to grow out of it as he got older.
The problem led Jennifer to speak to Bradley's pediatrician when he was three because by that point she said it was obvious to her that there was something different about her middle son.
"I was told that I was being over protective and that there was nothing wrong with him," she said. "It made me feel like I was crazy."
When Bradley went to Kindergarten in 2009 Jennifer wasn't the only one who noticed something was amiss. Bradley's teacher had difficulty with him in class. Jennifer said in October the school referred her to Choctaw Nation Behavioral Health in Talihina so he could be tested.
"The school thought he had ADHD or ADD, but after being their less than three hours Dr. Howard came back with answers," she said.
Bradley was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder of Aspergers Syndrome and Oppositional Deviant Disorder as well as mild insomnia.
Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger's syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.
A week later the family learned that Bradley also suffers from a heart murmur.
"My first concern was his medical health," she said.
Jennifer was also told that Bradley could develop Epilepsy. She said that 35% of people with Asperger's syndrome do.
Today Bradley is a well adjusted second grader all things considered and the family has learned to deal with things as they arise.
"He's just a quirky little guy," she says as she smiles at him.
Bradley used to take medication for some of the issues that he had with Asperger's but she slowly weaned him away from them.
"The meds just made him not Bradley. It's not that I am against medication therapy but if other things work for him then I'd like to stay away from it.
Last week Jennifer attended her first LeFlore County Parents of Autism meeting at Carl Albert State College with a guest speaker from Project Peak. She said that project is about providing screening for kids who are without a diagnosis.
Jennifer said she found the meeting to be very helpful.
"You know your child better than anyone else, if you have a concern don't let anyone tell you that you are being over protective," she said.
She also was surprised at the attendance at the meeting.
"I thought it was great! I honestly didn't know there were so many others out there, that it was so common," she said. "I met several people there who actually have Asperger's as their spectrum disorder. It's nice to know that we can share information and experiences."
She plans to become a regular member of the group. For now her goal is to be there for her son as much as possible.
"I want to help Bradley grow up to be a fully functioning adult and do all the things that we take for granted," she said. "I don't want this disability to define him. He is not Bradley with Asperger's, as far as I'm concerned he's just Bradley."