Family learns life lessons through autistic son
By Holly L. Birchfield, 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 15, 2005
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- Having a child is what some would refer to as a life-changing experience, but for a couple here it was more of a change than they expected.
Seven years ago, Rich Quick, a logistics analyst for the 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing, and his wife, Nubia, learned that their 1-year-old son Matthew was autistic.
Mr. Quick said news of his son’s condition left him in shock.
“Any dream that we had about what our child would be in our lives was basically smashed,” he said. “Until you learn more, all you’ve ever heard is that these children have no hope … that there’s no help for them.”
Like most parents, faced with such news, the Quicks began looking into ways to understand and cope with the disorder that would ultimately change not only their now 8-year-old son’s life, but have a big effect on theirs as well.
“The first thing you do is read everything you can get your hands on about the condition, and you try any treatment you can find, trying to find something that works,” Mr. Quick said.
The couple said in recent years, speech and occupational therapies, as well as therapy involving interaction with horses, have helped their young son open up and relate more to others -- a behavior that Mr. Quick said does not come easy for autistic children.
“At first, he wouldn’t go near the horse,” he said. “But by the end of the first session, he was finger painting on the horse and was no longer afraid of animals.”
While therapies have made great improvements with their son’s condition, the Quicks said each day is a challenge, maintaining a structured environment so their son can better adjust to the world around him.
“He’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and you have to walk around with him for a bit until he is ready to take his medicine and go back to sleep,” Mr. Quick said. “We get up with him and get him ready for school. We have to tell him what he is going to do each day, so he knows what to expect, so he can feel comfortable in his environment. If something happens that he wasn’t expecting, he gets upset and could have a meltdown.”
Taking care of a child with autism leaves the couple very little time for themselves or each other, Mrs. Quick said.
“There’s no time for yourself,” she said. “You have to ignore yourself and focus on him. I’m no longer worried about my life. I’m worried about my child’s life.”
But she said even though the task of caring for her son is time-consuming, he has taught her so much in his young life.
“I have learned to be patient and strong,” she said. “You have to learn to teach him whatever you can in that moment while you can. I wasn’t prepared for this, but it has taught me (in our everyday struggles) to be a stronger person.”
Mr. Quick agreed.
“I’ve never considered myself to be a patient person,” he said. “But now, people look at me and say, ‘Wow, you’re so patient.’ You have to learn patience and accept how things are or you’ll go crazy.”
While the developmental disorder remains a mystery to the medical community in many ways, parents can help their autistic child by using available resources, said Dr. Amanda Draper, a staff physician with the 78th Medical Group’s pediatric clinic here.
“Most of these children need some type of intervention to help them develop to the utmost potential,” she said. “What is needed will depend upon the child. Many need speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy -- most of which is the responsibility of the state via the school system. … Parents need to make themselves aware of the resources available to them in their area.”
With proper therapy and intervention, 30 to 40 percent of children diagnosed with a more severe case of autism may grow up to live independent lives, said Dr. Draper, who has been a general pediatrician at the clinic for nearly three years.
Matthew’s parents said while their son may not be what some consider “normal,” they hope, with time, they can help him be the best person he can be.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. For details, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics online at www.aap.org.