Huntsville father says community support is crucial for parents of children with autism

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism in the US.

Melody Crane from the Riley Center says April is not just a month to raise awareness for the developmental disorder.

"Many people understand it as an urgent public health concern," she said.

For families who have children that are diagnosed, it can seem like the life that they imagined is gone.

"All your hopes and dreams that you had for your child sometimes in that instant, you don't know if that's going to exist for them anymore," said Crane.

When Russell Winn first found out his son Mathew was diagnosed with autism, he said he felt hopeless.

"It was a tough time, the first few years," Winn explained.

Matthew was their second child. Russell said his wife first noticed something was different about him when he was 18-months-old, so she took him to the doctor to be tested.

Winn said at the time, he didn't think anything was wrong. He said he just thought he was a slow talker. Slower than their daughter, who he said began talking when she was around six months old.

When they talked with their son's pediatrician, he recommended that they have him tested for autism. Once diagnosed, Winn said they were sent home with pamphlets and basically told to figure it out on their own.

So that's where they started.

For many children on the autism spectrum, rather than verbally expressing what they need, nonverbal behaviors are developed in order to cope with uncomfortable situations.

When you see a child who is acting out, carrying a toy when they probably seem a little too old to do so, or wearing headphones, there is probably a reason, Winn explained. He said raising a child with autism has taught him many lessons.

"He taught me to live right now, not to worry about the past and mostly not to worry about the future," Winn said. "Even though I worry about the future a lot."

Winn added that for those who have a child with autism, finding a community could be very beneficial. He recommends joining the Huntsville Making Connections Autism Spectrum Disorder group on Facebook in order to get connected.

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