June 29, 2015
Medical: a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and that causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people. (Source: Merriam Webster)
Amarillo/Wellington—Kyler Lawrence is your typical three-year-old boy.
He is active, likes to have fun and at his young age, loves to go to Mass at Our Mother of Mercy Church in Wellington, with his mom, Annabelle and his dad, Dustin.
The Lawrence family saw their world change in Nov. 2013 when Kyler, who turns four on Monday, June 29, was diagnosed with Autism.
“It wasn’t too hard for me at first because we kind of expected it,” Annabelle Lawrence said during a May 19 conversation at Our Mother of Mercy Church. “He was in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) and they kind of expected it. It hit my husband the hardest. Finally when I got home and started thinking, that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want people to think badly of him or that something was wrong with him. The diagnosis doesn’t change who Kyler is. But through that diagnosis, I have been brought into touch with so many other mothers. I was always told that he would need therapy for the rest of his life. By the Grace of God, I was put in touch with a woman whose son recovered from Autism. I didn’t know you could recover from Autism.”
Annabelle Lawrence said one of the hardest things in dealing with her son’s Autism happens during Mass.
“When we come to church, he will have a mini-meltdown and it hurts me to take him out of Mass, because he loves God so much,” she said. “So there are times we have to sit through these instances, even though he is being a little rowdy. When a child has Autism, just bear with us, and it will subside. When you are out in public and see a child who may be having a tantrum/meltdown, just offer support to the parent. Offer a silent prayer, a pat on the back; it will help a lot.”
Dustin Lawrence said hearing his son’s Autism diagnosis was “devastating.”
“I wanted him to be like a normal kid running around,” he said. “Kyler for the most part is a normal kid running around. Sometimes when he has his meltdowns, that can get a little frustrating. When he is having a meltdown you can’t seem to get him to listen like a normal kid. You tell him to sit down and be quiet and to stop throwing a tantrum. That doesn’t work; you have to let it play out.
“When we are at church and he has a tantrum, we have to take him outside because the church does not have a quiet room here. We can’t take him upstairs in the choir loft either: it’s just as loud or maybe louder up there. It’s a challenge.”
One thing that has helped Kyler Lawrence is a change in his diet, according to his mother.
“He is on a gluten-free, casein-free diet,” Annabelle Lawrence said. “Casein is a protein found in dairy products. Kyler was nonverbal. He tried to talk but he was mostly nonverbal. He had bowel problems but within a week of starting that diet he had no more bowel problems. He started talking so much more. By the time he was three, he learned his ABCs by himself. He can count to 1,000 now. He knows the days of the week. He can read; he can spell.”
Annabelle Lawrence was asked to define “meltdown”:
“Meltdown is like sensory overload,” she said. “Sometimes the fans in church will bother him and he will want to go turn them off because they do. Or, something gets too loud. When they ring the bells that could set him off. For the most part, since he really enjoys the Mass it doesn’t bother him. The tag of his shirt can bother him and will set him off. If he wants to get a book out and he has a hard time getting it out, it feels off to him and he will have a meltdown.
“Mostly it is the sensory issues. When he is around a lot of people and they all try to talk at once, it will send him into sensory overload. Singing or people responding to prayers don’t bother him anymore, since we changed his diet.
“We used to go to Wal-Mart and he would have a meltdown and scream at the top of his lungs. People would look at me like my child was just a brat and I needed to take him out. He would have a meltdown because of all the lights, all the people, too much going on and it was hard for him to take in. Now when he goes to Wal-Mart, he sits and doesn’t act up, doesn’t have a meltdown. Diet has played a big role in his treatment.”
Dr. Pia Habersang, a Nurse Practitioner who is also a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Amarillo, said the medical profession has been treating Autism for over a century. The word Autism, which has been in use for about 100 years, comes from the Greek word “autos,” meaning “self.” The term describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction—hence, an isolated self.
“Back in the 1940s it was believed that the lack of maternal warmth and bonding was the cause of Autism. However the Refrigerator mother theory is now a widely discarded theory,” she said. “More recently over the last 20 years we really have seen an increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
Dr. Habersang has been working with special needs children for over 25 years.
“With my husband (Dr. Rolf Habersang) who is a pediatrician, I started to really look at what is underneath this issue,” she said. “There has to be more to it than just a psychiatric disorder. We started to look at diet–the gut brain connection—and I started to participate in conferences with other scholarly people who work with these children and have really come across an understanding that there is more that we can do to help the families navigate this difficult course of a child on the spectrum.”
Is there a cure for Autism?
“If we review and look at the myriad of different things that play a role in the expression of the autistic syndrome, there are as many different interventions,” said Dr. Pia Habersang. “I am not saying that you can’t cure it; I think you can treat, ameliorate and stabilize it (the symptoms). You can help a person function at optimal level wherever they are.
“Individuals who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder display various degrees of cognitive/intellectual function. There is the high functioning person with Autism, sometimes referred to as a savant; there are a slew of very notable celebrities, like Einstein and Temple Grandin, who has a Ph.D. in Animal Science, who have accomplished things in their lives that we are in awe of.
“Maybe it’s because of their autistic features that they have reached that. I know that Temple Grandin once stated that she does not wish to be any different that the way she is.
“It is our job, as health care providers to help parents and families explore different avenues/interventions to help their children to reach their optimum level of success in life. It is a trial and error process to find which interventions might work best. Some of the interventions are very simple concepts, for example, modifying the diet, eliminating dairy and gluten as well as sugars and GMO foods, but they are not so easy to implement since our western lifestyle/culture is so entrenched in unhealthy diets. Of all the children I have met who are on the spectrum I have yet to encounter one on the first visit who is not addicted to French Fries and Chicken McNuggets. I think we can probably stabilize the condition and address more issues. I do hesitate to say there is a cure or there isn’t a cure because it is up to the parents to assess how the child behaves and functions once interventions have been implemented.”
What can people do to support those parents who are raising an autistic child?
“That is a very interesting question,” Dr. Pia Habersang said. “In my career I have always had the best teachers; those are the parents of children with Autism and other children in general. One mother shared with me a very interesting, simple approach. She has made little business cards which say My child has Autism – what do you know about Autism?, and contains website references where people can learn about it. When the child has a meltdown at Wal-Mart and the people look at this child and this family, she just gives them a card. The observer kind of feels a little bit embarrassed and might even look at the websites and learn.
“It is important for the parents to stand up and be their child’s advocate. There are various methods to do that. If you have a child who can slowly tolerate a little more public exposure and you want to go to a restaurant, try to put yourself in a place where you can easily exit. You might explain to the waiter that your child has Autism and ask them to refrain from certain actions to help make it a pleasant dining experience. Or you may put a ear headset on your child so the offending noise is muffled and you probably could take this child to the ballpark to watch a game.”
For the Lawrence family, they continue to hold out hope that Kyler will win the battle against Autism.
“My friend Maria has done a documentary about the recovery of her son who was worse off than Kyler,” said Annabelle Lawrence. “He would not even try to talk. Now, he is six years old and has lost the diagnosis. That’s what I’m looking forward to for Kyler. Now her son is happy, healthy and so smart. Maria is the one who helped me. I thank God for her; if not for her, Kyler would still have his medical issues. I don’t think people realize there is a medical aspect to it.
“When I went to see Dr. Pia Habersang last month she was very impressed because before he wouldn’t make eye contact with you and now he does. He is an amazing little boy.”