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Autism: My Child Has It, Please Understand

Local parent talks to Patch about her son’s recent diagnosis and what it has meant.

Three weeks ago, a Deerfield mom of three, Violet Flemenbaum, was told that her eldest child has autism.

“We tried to convince ourselves these were just quirks,” Flemenbaum recalled about signs she and her husband had noticed before the diagnosis.

For instance, Flemenbaum said her 9-year-old son Gabriel was very literal and didn’t understand jokes. “If you say it's raining cats and dogs out, he is expecting to see cats and dogs falling from the sky,” she explained.

But a few months ago, things got worse, according to Gabriel's mother.

“It got to the point he was coming home bullied at school by other kids and he wasn’t making any friends, and we thought, ‘Maybe this is a bigger problem,' " Flemenbaum said about the turning point.

A developmental pediatrician told Flemenbaum, Gabriel was autistic. 

“It confirmed that I wasn’t going crazy,” she said. “I wasn’t just seeing these things; they were actually there.”

After researching the disorder, Flemenbaum quickly discovered her son wasn’t alone. According to the Autism Program of Illinois (TAP), the disorder affects one in 110 children in the U.S. and there are currently 29,000 children dealing with the problem in Illinois, including some in Deerfield.   

“There seems to be a little community here of parents with kids who have autism,” Flemenbaum said. 

“Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurologically based developmental disabilities,” TAP’s website states. “ASDs can impact a person’s functioning across a wide range, from very mild to severe.

"Individuals with ASD are not different in appearance, but they may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from typical peers,” it adds.

Flemenbaum said she was initially shocked by some of the statistics she found but was relieved to get the diagnosis about her son’s problem. Then, she felt sadness.

“As a parent you feel for your kid,” she said. “It can be lonely for them and it can be lonely for you.”

That is an issue the Deerfield mother’s already had to deal with.

“A lot of times you’re almost ostracized,” she acknowledged. “You’re out in public and your child has a meltdown and people automatically assume, ‘Oh this kid is ill-behaved, the parent’s aren’t disciplining him.’ When a lot of the times it’s autism.”

It is a disorder some in the community and her own family don’t understand, added Flemenbaum.

“He [Gabriel] doesn’t quite get it," she said. "So I’ve explained to him that the doctors think he might have autism and he looks at me and his questions are more basic for someone that age.”

Gabriel has asked her if the disorder is why he can’t make any friends, according to Flemenbaum, who says her son wants to be social but doesn’t know how to do it.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” she said, adding Gabriel will ask such questions as, “Kids call me weird. Is that why I don’t get invited to any parties?”

Since April is Autism Awareness Month, Flemenbaum is encouraging the community to become more educated about the disorder.  

“A lot of people still have that image of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man being the poster child of autism, and I would say that’s the biggest misconception,” she said about the Oscar-winning 1988 movie that depicts Hoffman as an autistic mathematical genius.

“You take 10 autistic children in a room and you’ll get 10 different personalities, 10 different levels of functioning,” Flemenbaum noted.

Now that Flemenbaum knows her son is going to need occupational and physical therapy as well as a psychiatrist she is asking the community to consider financially supporting autism research. She is also encouraging residents to be more emotionally supportive. 

“We need more compassion from people,” said the Deerfield mom, who is working with the school system on a plan to help her son. “So when we see the mother struggling with that special needs child in the supermarket, instead of sneering or making rude comments, you can offer a compassionate word to just let her know that you understand.”

Since at this point, that’s what she’s trying to do as well.

“We’re just kind of getting used to the idea that this is part of who he is,” Flemenbaum said. “It’s pretty much a lifelong journey that we’re taking with him.”

Pam Blumenthal June 01, 2011 at 03:01 PM
I think there needs to be a weekly social gathering and social skills group at the Deerfield Park District (Like the Lego Club for autistic kids that went on for a awhile with Beth Weis, the Lego Lady). I have a 10 yr. old at Walden who has neurotypical friends but still struggles socially. He has always wanted to get together informally with other autistic kids and talk about Pokemon or whatever. That could be the first hour, then the second hour could be social skills awareness and practice (Superflex and "Socially Curious and Curiously Social" are 2 great resources by Michelle Garcia Winner). I have never organized a group nor run a program before but maybe one of you has and would like to. It would be great to start for the beginning of summer and continue... Maybe everyone could get a copy of the "Socially Curious" book and/or Superflex Academy, and tackle each chapter together every week. Something along those lines---while making friends. email me and we can get it going! Thanks, Pam email: jopa8@comcast.net
Pam Blumenthal June 01, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Or maybe just a social club that meets weekly at the Jewett Park Facilities. I called them and have to produce a letter to the board asking for a space to be used for an ongoing gathering of kids on the spectrum...maybe 6-8:00 pm one day a week. Anyone else interested?
Violet Flemenbaum June 01, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Pam, I just found out about the Lego Club! I would love to have a weekly social club for my Antsy Pants kid. Thank you for contacting Jewett Park Facilities. I'm in!! I'll post on FaceBook as well to see if anyone else is interested. BTW, my kiddo is at Walden too!
Violet Flemenbaum June 01, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Mazal tov to Luke! Amy, you are right. We definitely live in a community with a lot of resources. Thank you for the tips. I will look into all of those for my kiddo.
Jody Wilson June 07, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Thank you for sharing your story with the community. This past year, the Deerfield Public Library received a grant to create inclusive programs specially designed for children with autism, Asperger’s, and other special needs, and collaborated with NSSED special education teachers to structure these new programs. We even offer a parent networking opportunity for those who register their child for our programs, and are thrilled with the response. We recognize the growing need for inclusive, welcoming places to bring your entire family, and encourage you to look to the Deerfield Library as one of these places. Jody Wilson on behalf of the Deerfield Public Library

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