Running to Support Military Families Touched by Autism
By Andrekka Lanier, ACT Today for Military Families
I would love to be able to include wonderful fitness tips on running in general and share advice with other female runners out there, but alas I have to report that I am not a runner. In awe, I have watched the wonderful creatures who get up early, strap on their carefully selected shoes, don their wonderful running outfits and headphones and take to the trails and pavement for miles at a time.
But on April 7, 2012 I will run a 5K for ACT Today! For Military Families and attempt to join their ranks, if only for a fleeting moment. Against some medical advice, several odds, two knee surgeries, and a few months of physical therapy later, I will run. I would love to say that one of the simplest and most effective methods of exercise and stress relief has drawn me in, but that is not why I run. I believe in Autism Care and Treatment for families, especially our military families; however, that is not the reason I choose to run either. I am running for my Alexavier (Alex, if you will). Alex was diagnosed with Autism three months before his third birthday, nearly three years ago. At the time he was unable to speak and he communicated with grunts, pointing, and gestures. He had been dismissed from daycare centers, church child-care, and we were often afraid to take him out in public settings like the supermarket, for fear of a meltdown.
My professional education and training did not prepare me for the dismay and helplessness I felt while watching my child go through terrible tantrums for hours at a time until he was both physically and mentally exhausted, over what were seemingly the smallest items, like a small bag of chips. I resonated with the fact that my child did not seem to register my presence or acknowledge the bond between mother and child and would not tolerate the typical displays of affection, in fact, we rarely touched him with the exception of changing or bathing, so as not to trigger a negative reaction. After receiving his diagnosis of moderate to severe Autism, we were on a waiting list in Yuma, AZ for almost two years for all services: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy, psychotherapeutic services—yet we did not receive any because none were available.
My husband and I implemented the strategies that we could at home and we found an in-home daycare provider, who barely spoke English to care for Alex. Together Alex and she learned to communicate with one another. Tips were shared between both home fronts and we began noticing a change in Alex’s communication skills both at home and in the community. Unfortunately, we uprooted Alex and moved him to CA, were my husband and I had already researched treatment centers and we were breathing a little easier now, knowing that Alex would be able to receive the 40 hours (per week, until the age of 8) of ABA therapy that had been recommended almost two years ago.
After less than a year with intensive ABA therapy services, physical, occupational, and speech therapy services along with private pre-school placement and a concurrent Kinderbridge program placement, and in-home reinforcements/strategies, Alex began improving dramatically. To date, he has graduated from occupational therapy services and a visiting psychologist could not identify him in a classroom full of peers when asked which child was on the spectrum. Alex has the maturity of a 9 year old at the age of 5, in a Kindergarten classroom he reads on a 2nd grade level. He now socially interacts with his peers and can adapt rather well to changes in routine and he asks for hugs and tells me he loves me.
THIS is why I run. I’m running as a symbol of the endurance my young son has demonstrated in his battle against Autism. I will shirk my injuries and whatever small pains will be miniscule in comparison to the social stigma that Alex has overcome (and for what he will rail against in the future). I run for the parents who are less fortunate than we are, who may never hear their child speak, reciprocate emotions and affection, or engage in typical social activities but will go to the ends of the earth to provide the best quality of life for them simply because they deserve it and that is the legacy and duty of a parent.
The month of April is the month of Autism Awareness and the month of the Military Child. Alexavier is both. However, I run because the psychologist who diagnosed Alexavier told my husband and I to start the mourning process. Conversely, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the various facets of Autism Awareness and the Military Child, as each category comes with an array of battles and public misconceptions that must be overcome at every turn. Thankfully, they don’t have to do it alone because people like me, like you will take out the time and energy to demonstrate support as we run.
Andrekka Lanier is the campaign director for ACT Today! For Military Families — an advocacy group that helps Military families of an autistic child. A Marine spouse and mother of an autistic child, Andrekka can answer questions on special consideration for these unique families.
RUN WITH ANDREKKA
THIS SAT - SEE YOU THERE!