Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dealing With Autism As Children Become Teenagers

(WCCO) Life for most teenagers is one big thrill ride. This is also true for 15-year-old Jake Brasch, who is among the growing number of teens in Minnesota living with autism. He literally enjoys the ride when he's at places like Valleyfair, but when it's time for school, life tends to lose its thrill.

Dawn Brasch, Jake's mother, said he would like to go sit with typical kids, but doesn't have the skill to do that.

"He anticipates being rejected or being laughed at or being turned down so he won't attempt to go break into a group," she said. It's difficult for her to tell him it's OK to try because he's so afraid to approach peers.

Dawn found out Jake had autism when he was 18 months old. She said she could tell there was something different because he has a twin brother. Jake and Michael both spoke just after a year, but Jake lost his ability to speak just a few months later. He didn't speak again until he was 5 or 6.

"Michael took on a lot of responsibility for his twin brother when he was very little, saying, 'I must be a bad brother because my brother can't talk,'" Dawn said.

She said things have gotten better as they have gotten older. Now teenagers, Michael and his brother actually have things in common, such as working out.

"He's always trying to get stronger. He always wants to look good for the ladies," Michael said.

Jake said he wants to have a girlfriend, but his mom isn't sure if he could or how she would deal with it. Dating can be an issue for parents of young adults on this spectrum, but that doesn't stop teens with autism from wanting to take girls out.

Cindy Merriam's 13-year-old son John, who is considered high-functioning, is taking an interest in girls as well.

"I had a hard time getting his hair cut because the girls liked his hair curly," she admitted.

John told his mother there is one special girl he wants to date.

"I say, 'I just want to take you out on a date.' That's what most of my friends do, and I'm going to do the same thing," he said.

His father tried to explain to him the girl would have to go willingly, but John was more concerned with getting her out of the house.

"You're going to help me get her outside whether she likes it or not!" John told him.

John's father said the most difficult part of having a child with autism is adjusting expectations and realizing it is, at least currently, a life-long diagnosis. But he said John still enjoys doing typical teenage things, such as playing soccer and running track.

"He's never going to be the star of the team, but you're just happy he can do it," he said.

Another issue many teenagers with autism share in common with other adolescents is sensitivity towards peers' perception of them. John said he occasionally gets a hard time at school.

"There are some people who are not nice and think I'm crazy and stupid and a loser and a stupid retard," said John.

"You have to accept it in your heart, and it's not easy," Cindy admitted.

Because of the mood swings and rage that kids with autism go through, the Merriam family had to put John on medication.

"We actually went a long time and would not allow the medication," Cindy said, until pediatricians told her withholding medication was doing him no favors.

Dawn Brasch put Jake on medication as well.

"I would prefer not to, but I also can't have him -- at this age and this height and this weight-- beating me up because he's so frustrated he doesn't know what else to do," she said.

The rollercoaster emotions teens often encounter can be much more difficult for those with autism to understand and deal with. Jake said his classmates can be mean sometimes, which makes it hard for him and his siblings.

His sister Kelsey Brasch said she wishes he was a normal kid some days, "but then some of the stuff he does, you just don't see other kids do that much. So it's fun to see that."

As hard as being a teenager has been, Jake's special education teacher Angie Gamades said his future looks bright

"I see him in the future being able to do something that he can really excel at with kids," she said. "Jake is very special."

According to Gamades, Jake has shown interest in nursing, a profession she said she could see him in. He told WCCO's Amelia Santaniello he also aspired to becoming a movie actor.

John's parents are hopeful for his future as well, though professionals have told them he probably will end up in a group home. But they aren't ready to give up on him.

"I think there's something in there; we just haven't discovered it yet," Cindy said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One place people can get more of an understanding about autism is at That is where people will find FREE autism spectrum podcasts which they can listen to on their computers.

Midnight In Chicago, which has been linked to internationally, issues these audio recordings.