Friday, May 06, 2005

Autism Spectrum Disorder good story

Attaining the highest rank, Eagle Scout, is an accomplish­ment for any Boy Scout. Only about 4 percent of Scouts reach the mark.
But imagine doing so if you couldn't speak, or even understand the spoken word.Autism has created a lot of challenges for a 17-year-old Scout from the Town of Summit, yet that hasn't kept him from setting his goals at the highest point possible.

Growing up, nothing was really getting through to Andrew Telford. After he was diagnosed as autistic at 2-1/2 years old, Andrew's parents were uncertain what possibilities the future held for their son. "He just wasn't learning to talk. He appeared to be deaf, but the problem was in his auditory processing," said Andrew's mother, Susan. "It is actually an over-sensory problem. He picks up all background noise at the same volume. So he can't single out the words being spoken to him."According to the Autism Society of America, autism is a neurological disorder that "impacts the normal develop­ment of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and nonverbal commu­nication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities."At the age of 3, however, Andrew taught himself to read and write, and it would remain his only way of communicating with his parents and teachers. As he continued through his first years at Tonawanda Elementary School in Elm Grove, it seemed unlikely that Andrew, without speaking, could connect with his peers. That was until a group of boys in navy blue uniforms with yellow handkerchiefs around their necks walked into his third-grade classroom. "Every Tuesday, the Cub Scouts would meet in his classroom, and his eyes would just light up when he saw those boys. He was so fascinated with their uniforms," Susan said. "The teacher's aide said to me, 'You know, I think he wants to be a Cub Scout.' So she spoke with the den mother, and she was completely welcoming to him."The Telfords moved to the Town of Summit two years ago, and Andrew attends Kettle Moraine High School, but they continued to let Andrew meet with Troop 156 in Elm Grove. It seems Andrew couldn't have found a better bunch of boys to get hooked up with. "Andrew has always learned by imitating. He would watch the boys, and then do what they did," Susan said. "He loved being with those boys and doing the activities with them."So, with the guidance of his fellow Scouts, Andrew went up the ranks. "The Scout council board didn't water down the require­ments for him, either. For the merit badges, it had to be by the books," said Andrew's father, Gordon. "It just couldn't be a giveaway. Otherwise, it would have lessened it for everyone."Andrew watched, learned and received one merit badge after another. And he never ceased to surprise his parents and friends along the way."There was one survival task he had to do, where the boys had to jump into the water and make flotation devices from their clothes," Susan said. "I thought to myself, 'Forget it, he won't do it.' " To get him prepared, the den mother invited Andrew and four other Scouts to her house to practice in her swimming pool. One after the other, the boys dove into the pool to demonstrate the task, while Andrew closely watched. "Then he jumped in the water and did it," Susan said. "His smile was unbelievable. He couldn't have done it without those boys." Then there was the 50-mile cycling requirement. For two years, the Glacial Drumlin Trail got some use from Andrew. "At first, we would be riding next to him, with one of us holding his handlebars while the other held his seat from behind, pushing him up the hills," Susan said. "Now, he rides way ahead of us. We can't keep up with him." Andrew checked the hiking requirement off the list with a trek across the Continental Divide. "Another dad on the trip was hiking along for a while, and he looked back, and there, at 14,000 feet, came Andrew, walking up behind him. He couldn't believe it," Gordon said. "But that is Andrew. He is going to show up. If you're going up, he'll be right behind you."And, of course, to be a Boy Scout, Andrew had to learn to camp. Initially, his parents felt that Andrew would not like having his daily routine disrupted. Some people with autism are resistant to change."It was just the opposite. The camps gave him a sense of independence he never had before," Gordon said. "He wants to do things on his own there. He has a certain way to set up the tent, to make his bed. Everything is done his way." Currently, Andrew has logged 77 nights of camping, primarily at Camp Long Lake in St. Cloud, Wis., where he has been going for more than six years."He is totally at home there," said Gordon, who camps with his son during those weeks.Andrew's new sense of freedom at camp has often left his father wondering about his son's whereabouts. "But, Andrew, with his memory, is never lost. He knows exactly where he is, and how to get back," Gordon said. "I, on the other hand, am left scrambling after him. It is kind of a running joke at the camp. They say, 'Andy never gets lost - his father just doesn't know where he is.' "To reach the rank of Eagle Scout, a boy needs to earn 21 merit badges. Andrew has earned 25. He also needed to complete an Eagle community project. Andrew conducted a drive to collect household items for a program that teaches disabled students life skills, such as cooking and cleaning.His parents weren't too surprised that Andrew could do it; he has been surprising them for years. Particularly, when they discovered that he could write at age 3."One morning I came downstairs, and the word 'Mickey' was written with magnetic letters on the refrigerator. The next morning 'Donald Duck' was spelled out, and the next was 'Goofy,' " Susan said. "We couldn't figure out who was doing it. It turned out it was Andrew. He wrote it from memorizing the letters on the titles from the Disney Sing Along Songs videos."Those same singalong videos would become a learning tool in helping Andrew to read, Susan said. "The ball that bounces over the words' syllables to the music is similar to how he processes what he hears - one syllable at a time. He tries to listen, but by the time you are finished with a word, he is still working on the first sound," Susan said. "So words aren't consistent to him, because of his processing time."Through the years, Andrew has been introduced to different forms of communi­cation, such as sign language and the use of pictures, but he has always shown interest in speaking. "He wants to speak, that is how he wants to communicate," Susan said. Recently, Andrew's speech and language teacher for the past 10 years made some progress with him, using a style of communication that incorporates signing and speaking at the same time. "It is based on positive reinforcement, where he gets something that he asks for. It has made him realize that he can have some control," Susan said. "The signing also helps him find the word he is thinking of."The willingness of the Kettle Moraine School District to try new teaching techniques is what primarily brought the Telfords to Summit. "Kettle Moraine has a wonderful special-education program. They were willing to adapt to him," Susan said. "Andrew needs to be here."Within his first year at Kettle Moraine, Andrew went out for track and field and received a junior varsity letter for wrestling. "Not many high schools would let him participate like Kettle Moraine does," Susan said. "I am just touched how the kids have taken him under their wing." Gordon is quick to point out that Andrew isn't really that different from his teenage classmates. "A Scout leader once asked Andrew to pick a behavior out of the 12 Scout Laws that he liked most. And Andrew pointed to being 'Kind,' " Gordon said. "He then was asked what he liked least. Andrew pointed to being 'Obedient.' "Gordon smiled and shook his head. "We are dealing with autism, but we are also dealing with a 17-year-old boy. We still have an adolescent on our hands," he said. Above all, Andrew's parents have been there for him. From posing as a tackling dummy or a drowning victim, Susan and Gordon have given of themselves to help Andrew manifest his ambitions. "We introduce as much as we can to Andrew, and it at least gives him the chance to see what he will like," Susan said.Andrew has used those chances as the spark to blaze a trail for other disabled boys to experience Scouting, and also, in the process, allowed Scouts to work with someone with disabilities. "We have had counselors from camp thank us for bringing Andy to camp," Gordon said. "They learned from him and watched the campers do the same. Parents have also thanked us. They appreciated what he has taught their boys."Susan and Gordon admit that not every activity or hobby they have introduced to Andrew has worked. But they beam with pride at what he has accomplished with the odds against him, and swell with appreciation of everyone who has helped Andrew succeed.Through the years, it may have taken patience to communicate with Andrew, but what he has had to express has been worth waiting for.