One Air Force family’s story on autism

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- By now most of you have seen the awesome film footage of Jason McElwain, the 18-year-old team trainer, who was given the chance to dress out with the seniors for the basketball team’s final game.

From obscurity, he went on to hit six three-pointers in the last minutes of the game. The true miracle is that Jason has autism. Since his performance in that game he has been on TV and met the president. His triumph has brought tears to my eyes several times. He is the face of the autistic child.

My wife and I have learned a lot about autism over the past few years, with our son Frank. He, like Jason, is a high functioning autistic. To look at him you might think him shy. He avoids eye contact, yet he chatters on about all types of things. He is an expert on dinosaurs, trains and most recently, science fiction. He does math in his head, which drives his teachers crazy. Yet, tying his shoes is a huge challenge and any change in his environment is so difficult that it often results in a tantrum, commonly called meltdowns.

Through the years we have had to endure the reality that our son is different. We have had to keep our cool when well-meaning parents come up during a meltdown and tell us that old adage spare the rod…

My wife once took off her shoes and offered them to woman who was very insistent on giving her advice, if she could only walk a mile and experience our life.
Through great medical support and counseling, we have been able to reduce the occurrence of the melt downs and help Frank control his emotions.

To be honest, our growth as a family with autism has been a blessing. We have learned to look at the world through Frank’s eyes. We have heard the prayers of a child untainted by the cynical world we live in. His prayer as I left for Afghanistan in September 2001, “Dear God, make the bad men change their minds.” Simple, true and to the point.

Frank has taught me to slow down and enjoy the simple things. He has given us a view of the world we would have otherwise overlooked. In time, he will master his emotions and blend into society as a teacher, scientist or whatever he is inspired to do. He, just like Jason McElwain, is destined for greatness.

Today, Air Force families live with autism day in and day out.
If you are a parent of an autistic child it is important that you have the resources to fight for your child’s rights.

There are several organizations dedicated to education and support.