“Out of the mouths of babes …”
Sometimes the youngest among us are the wisest and 11-year-old Josh Major is a prime example.
“Be nice. You can be making a difference and making them happy,” he said when talking about people meeting those with autism. “When people like me, it makes me feel really good and happy.”
You see, Josh is autistic and he is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, introspective people you would ever meet and April is Autism Awareness Month.
Needless to say, Josh and his mom Sherry faced challenges as he was growing up and they still do.
“When we moved here from South Carolina (last year), it was challenging for Josh,” said Sherry, an Army Community Service specialist with Survivor Outreach Services. “His biggest challenge is social interaction; reading people.
“I was seeing different challenges when he was little – speaking, walking, eating (Josh would only eat certain color foods).”
Sherry said one challenge she faced was finding the correct therapy and diagnoses for Josh. And she isn’t alone.
“It’s challenging for families, for parents,” she said. “There are organizations that have free resources. I encourage families to seek these out.”
Natalie Taylor is the Exceptional Family Member Program manager at Army Community Service for family support. The family support services include Family Needs Assessments, Advocacy, Respite Care, Information and Referral and Education.
Taylor provided this list of resources:
· The Exceptional Family Member Program is a mandatory program for Soldiers to enroll in if their family members have a medical and/or educational specialized needs. An exceptional family member is a family member (child or adult) with any physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disability that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training or counseling.
· Autism Society of Alabama: www.autism-alabama.org; 1-877-4AUTISM, Education and Advocacy
· Making Connections is a parent-led support/networking group of Autism Society. www.theautismresourcefoundation.org/localresources
· Military One Source is an excellent source for information and resources to help educate parents/counseling services www.militaryonesource.com
· Specialized Training for Military Parents (STOMP)-www.wapave.org. Laws, Publications and Other Links\
· Military Child Education Coalition: www.militarychild.org, School Transitions, Special Education Tool Box
Sherry provides some advice for parents who believe their child may be autistic: “I encourage families, if you even have a hunch, seek a diagnosis. The earlier you can get therapy, the better it is for everyone.”
Natosha Lessly is the EFMP case coordinator/special needs adviser at Fox Army Health Center. She oversees the medical side for Soldiers to enroll in the EFMP when they have a family member with medical and/or educational needs.
Josh attends Whitesburg Christian Academy, plays trombone in the band and enjoys STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). He said he likes engineering and science: “I really like taking a specific one of those small parts and creating it into something awesome.”
He also plays videogames – individually and with other people.
“I enjoy interacting with people,” Josh said. “I like to play games interacting with people.”
This is one of the ways Josh answers the challenge of social interaction.
“It can be very hard making a good first impression and trying to pique the interest (of people),” he said. “On the inside, you can be a very good person to hang out with, but it’s hard to (get that across).
“To someone without autism, I may have habits that (they) don’t. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Josh said for those who are autistic and are trying to overcome their social challenges to never give up.
“If you have autism, it can be like looking through a completely different person,” he said. “It can be really frustrating.
“Don’t let it get to you; keep trying to make friends.”