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Dan Hust | Democrat

YVONNE HOUSMAN OF Rock Hill gets a kiss from son Devin, 9, who was diagnozed with autism. Thanks to different therapies, the housmans have seen Devin make good progress.

Family Struggles With Autism

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — December 4, 2007 — It was like music to Yvonne Housman’s ears.
Her son, Devin, was laughing – loudly – at the antics of a Disney character on the big screen at the Lowe’s Cineplex.
Another patron at the matinee asked Housman to shush her 9-year-old, but she didn’t have the heart.
Her son sounded just like any other kid – almost normal.
For the Housman family of Rock Hill, there is no normal.
Six years ago, their youngest child was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, often considered a “high-functioning” form of autism.
It was one of the hardest days of Yvonne’s life.
“At that point, I was kind of in denial,” she recalled.
But the doctor at the Center for Discovery in Harris started asking her pointed questions about Devin’s behavior, his lifestyle.
Did he avoid making eye contact? Did he avoid being touched? Did he have a habit of repeating words or behaviors over and over again? Did he have trouble speaking?
Finally, Yvonne and husband James faced the truth – their son is autistic.
They became voracious researchers, trying to find a reason.
They took him for a brain scan in Denver, Colo. that showed a traumatic brain injury – maybe during childbirth.
Yvonne traced back through every step of what she had thought was a normal pregnancy.
She looked back at the periods shortly after Devin received his MMR vaccines, the shot that has been focus of much scientific speculation because of a high concentration of mercury in the formula – a toxic substance some say could be the cause of autism.
There were no answers.
But the Housmans didn’t give up.
They threw their energies into getting the best services available for their son, starting with early intervention speech therapy.
Devin was able to start kindergarten at Monticello Central School when he was 5 years old, but it wasn’t the right program for him.
A year and a half later, the frustrated Housmans took him to a neurologist in Manhattan who specializes in autism.
“Devin was definitely to the point where behavior-wise, we were having trouble,” Yvonne recalled. “He liked structure, he liked routine, and if the setting was not structured, he’d go wild.
“He would hold it together at school, and at home he’d release,” she recalled.
He would hit older sister Briana, refuse to allow his parents near him and throw temper tantrums.
When Yvonne took him to Dr. Isabelle Rapin’s office at Montefiore Medical Center, she prayed he’d be on his best behavior.
Instead, “it was like the lion unleashed – he did everything I didn’t want him to do,” Yvonne recalled. “I was so embarrassed.”
But a friend reminded her this was the behavior she wanted the doctor to see, this was the only way to get to the root of his problems.
Rapin suggested removing Devin from a standard school program in favor of somewhere with more structure.
“As a parent, it was hard because you want the best for your child, but you don’t want to cause waves in a school district,” Yvonne recalled.
The Rock Hill family checked out the Annex in Kingston, and they liked what they saw.
But folks in the Monticello school district were pushing them to check out Sullivan County BOCES’ special education services.
“I was very leery of it,” Housman recalled. “You hear a lot about BOCES, and it wasn’t all good.”
But visits to BOCES revealed a program she calls “magnificent.”
They decided to enroll Devin.
Today he’s in the third grade. He has an aide assigned to him, and he gets speech, occupational and physical therapies to help keep him on track.
“He’s made very great strides,” Yvonne said with a grin. “He’s very verbal now – there are times where I can’t get him to stop talking!
“Two or three years ago, we couldn’t get him to get a haircut.”
Even as she’s talking, Devin breaks in.
“I’m going to the mall with Daddy,” he informs her. “I’m going to the mall. I’m going to get Yu-Gi-Oh.”
Two years ago, the Housmans couldn’t go to the mall.
Devin would cling to James’s chest and demand they leave.
Two years ago, he couldn’t sit through a movie in a multi-plex.
“I think the hardest thing for parents is accepting your child has autism,” Yvonne noted. “You don’t have that time, that normal six months to a year to go into denial – when your child is diagnosed, it’s such an important developmental stage.”
According to Sherry Eidel, a parent educator with BOCES, research has shown autistic children can “age out” of certain symptoms of autism.
Although there’s no cure, speech, occupational and physical therapies introduced when a child is still developing can help them mount at least a few of the many hurdles autism will throw up in their lives.
Today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) put the number at 1 in 150 children who will be diagnosed with autism.
Projections put the number of diagnoses expected over the next decade at 4 million – in part because awareness of autism is steadily increasing.
With parents of autistic children like former Buffalo Bills star Doug Flutie and former MTV star Jenny McCarthy speaking out about their experiences, the media has turned its spotlight on the neurological disorder.
There are still plenty of misconceptions out there, according to Eidel.
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder – the diagnoses range, as do the affects on a child’s life.
Devin’s Asperger’s diagnosis is markedly different from that of many of the autistics who are residents at the Center for Discovery.
He lives at home, has begun to develop relationships with friends and enjoys school.
Some autistics are never comfortable with their peers, and some never become verbal.
Most autistics have heightened senses – that can make a hug from a grandparent an excruciating experience.
Raised in an old-fashioned Italian family, Yvonne said she had to teach her family that Devin does not always like a kiss on the cheek or to be greeted with a big hug.
People stare in stores when Devin acts out – Yvonne can feel the judgements in their eyes.
To people who haven’t experienced life with an autistic child, she asks for compassion, patience.
For parents considering whether their child is autistic, she advises action.
Talk to your pediatrician. Get a neurological screening. Get an advocate through an organization like Action Toward Independence in Monticello to help you wade through the process of getting special services.
“I think the most important thing I can say to another parent is, ‘Go with your gut, because normally your gut’s never wrong,’” she said.
“Get out of denial,” she continued. “You have to help your child – the most important thing is to be aware, don’t be naive.”
People ask the Housmans if Devin is always going to live with them in Rock Hill.
“I’d love to say no, but I don’t know,” Yvonne said. “We’d love him to have the most independence he can have.
“Right now, we take one day at a time,” she continued. “Don’t give up, keep pursuing, keep asking questions.”

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