Thursday, April 12, 2012

Step 12: From our neighbor's perspective.

We have been neighbors to the Guppy's for about 17 years. In that time my whole family has literally watched Matt and Brandon grow up. I remember when Brandon was really little, I am not sure what age, he had some language. He did say, "mama," if I recall correctly. However, after the autism diagnosis, his language disappeared. Glimpses of his sweet personality came through when his dog, Copper, would chase after him and pull off his socks. That always made him laugh. Brandon also would laugh whenever someone tickled him. He often would rock back and forth, and when babysitting him, we tried to prevent him from knocking his head against the wall repeatedly. That was only a minor danger though....later on, Michelle and Todd had to make many adjustments to their house in order to make it safe for Brandon. For one thing, he could easily leave the house and many times he would run to a neighbors house and walk right in. As their neighbors, we had no problem with Brandon's impromptu visits. However, not everyone knew Brandon like we did. For this reason, Todd and Michelle put special plastic childproof doorknob covers on all of the doorknobs. In spite of precautions, and very watchful eyes, Brandon was still able to sneak out quietly sometimes.

One time, Todd and Michelle found Brandon standing on top of the upstairs guardrail. As soon as they could, they had that guardrail extended to the ceiling so Brandon would not fall to his death someday. These were but minor challenges, for in the days to come, the Guppy's had some real whoppers. Brandon started having severe seizures...I cannot even name all the different kinds. Michelle, could probably write a book on them by now. He has busted his chin, busted his teeth, busted his head. He has been to the emergency room too many times to count. In addition, he had digestion problems....something I think I have heard Michelle refer to as "leaky gut." Not only did Michelle and Todd have to figure out how to get to the root of these medical problems, they had to constantly change Brandon's diapers and keep him in clean clothes. That is no small task! Later on, the doctors recommended a gluten free diet, and Michelle and Todd tackled the job of meeting the special dietary needs of their son.

Having an autistic son is a balancing act, for a marriage, and for a family. Michelle and Todd had to find time to connect with each other and with their son Matthew....with seizures, diapers, doctor's appointments, and keeping the house on lock-down to keep Brandon from running off is hard to find that time.

Michelle and Todd were fortunate to find support in a number of ways. Michelle started connecting with other parents of Autistic children and started a non-profit for them. In this way, relating with other parents who have similar struggles, there was a camaraderie that was formed. Also, Michelle and Todd found a new church home which had a ministry for handicapped kids: the Joy ministry. This program would have nights where trained individuals would take care of these children, while the parent's had a night out. As you can imagine, this is a very real and urgent need. Care givers need a time of refreshment!

Todd and Michelle have weathered all of these storms by the grace of God. They are still married and have a great relationship with their other son Matthew, who is now graduated from high school. They were very involved with Matthew and his school activities. He was on the swim team, and a pretty darn good swimmer at that! A lot of arrangements had to be made in order for Todd and Michelle to be able to spend one on one time with Matthew.  Sometimes Brandon would stay with grandparents for a little while. Other times, the night that Joy ministry would take care of Brandon, provided that time. There was also a special camp for special needs kids, that Brandon would go to for a week.

I know that there are still days that throw them for a loop, when it comes to taking care of Brandon and maintaining their sense of sanity. I know there is still so much lacking in terms of support for those who have autistic children. I also know that this fight is not over yet. Brandon, is seventeen and still requires full care, like a toddler would. Except that on top of that he has a seizure disorder, and other medical problems. Brandon is a great kid. He is very athletic too. He jumps on the trampoline all day long, and he is solid muscle! (There is a net around it so he won't fall off). When Todd and Michelle get older they are going to be the most fit people on the planet, with gluten free diets and chasing down a fast autistic son when he goes on one of his little adventures.

I have just put forth an itty bitty glimpse of what I have seen of how autism has affected the Guppy's as a family.

I hope that they continue to keep the faith, and fight the good fight!

Written by the Stewart Family