The CDC reports that approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States have been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder. In honor of National Autism Awareness month this April, we asked one Hamilton County mom to share the joys and struggles of parenting a child with autism.
Meet the family
Amber Kostelac, a stay-at-home mom who writes fiction, lives in Carmel with her husband Bryan, a medical device engineer. The couple welcomed son Ayden to their family in April of 2010.
Ayden was a “really good baby” says Amber, but was sick frequently during his early years of life. He also struggled to meet various developmental milestones. While attending a mom’s group with Ayden, she recalls, “I observed each and every week how the other kids pulled ahead of him in speech and motor development.” Shortly before his third birthday, Ayden was officially diagnosed with autism.
Challenges and successes
At the time of his diagnosis, Ayden faced many challenges. He knew few words and spoke them only infrequently. “He rarely imitated any actions,” Amber says. Instead of playing with toys, Ayden preferred to line up household objects in rows.
In an effort to help him, Amber began reading everything she could about autism. “All the research seems to back up that early intervention with an ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) program leads to the greatest developmental outcomes in kids with autism,” she says. In June of 2013, Amber enrolled Ayden in a full-time ABA therapy program.
Since that time, Ayden has made tremendous progress. He can now make requests, label items and imitate others. While Ayden still struggles with social interaction, he has shown improvement in this area as well. “Sometimes he will tell me which kids he played with during the day, and I am happy to report he has a best friend at the ABA center,” says Amber.
A “day in the life”
Despite his progress, Ayden’s autism still impacts many aspects of the Kostelac’s schedule, for example:
“Ayden has a wonderful sense of humor,” says Amber. “He makes me laugh every day.” Ayden enjoys taking walks, visiting the park and playing flashlight tag with his parents. He also loves singing and dancing. “He began singing Christmas songs in October this year,” says Amber.
While Ayden’s play skills have improved dramatically, he still has difficulty playing independently and remains intrigued by household objects. “Some mornings the first thing he does is take my toiletries in the bathroom and line them up on the counter,” says Amber.
Ayden’s ABA therapy runs from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Beginning this fall he will attend preschool six hours per week with an aide in addition to receiving therapy. The family hopes Ayden will start attending kindergarten at age six. Like many children who are autistic, “Ayden seems to be a whiz at electronics,” says Amber. She finds iPad learning apps to be a helpful teaching tool.
“Ayden’s always been an extremely picky eater,” says Amber. Some evenings, she has difficulty getting him to eat even a few bites. He currently follows a gluten free/casein free (GFCF) diet and eats limited sugar and processed foods. Amber believes these dietary restrictions have played an important role in Ayden’s progress.
Amber has instituted a bedtime routine for Ayden that includes dinner, playtime, a bath, pajamas, iPad or television time, then bed. “Routines and structure help him a lot,” she explains. That said, Ayden currently sleeps in his parents’ room as an alternative to multiple nightly wake-ups. “We just had to give in and sleep at some point,” says Amber.
Words of wisdom
If you’re raising a child with autism, Amber says, “Don’t go it alone. Utilize the resources in your community.” The Kostelacs have taken advantage of parent respite nights through Easter Seals, and Amber corresponds with a parent mentor she found through Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
Despite the challenges they have faced, parenting Ayden has been a joyful experience for the Kostelacs. “He is a wonderful little boy and I am proud to be his mom,” says Amber. “I feel he is capable of learning just about anything.”
Local Autism-Friendly Events
Looking for a fun family outing? Below, find a list of events and activities specifically geared toward kids with autism or other special needs.
*AMC Theatres offers sensory friendly showings of popular films at several Indianapolis area locations. Expect a brighter theater, lower movie volume and an accepting atmosphere. Check www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films for showtimes.
*Work up a sweat at Sky Zone Trampoline Park’s Special Needs Time. For just $8, your child can jump for an hour alongside a parent or guardian. This special event takes place in Fishers on the second Monday of each month. Bounce on over to www.skyzone.com/fishers to learn more.
*Children with learning differences can receive one-on-one or small group swim instruction as part of Stony Creek Swim Center’s Aqua Abilities program. Find complete details at www.stonycreekswimcenter.com.
*Help your child relax with Monon Community Center’s adaptive yoga classes. These classes are intended for kids with disabilities in a number of different age ranges. Visit www.carmelclayparks.com and click “Browse Programs Online” to see classes and schedules.
*If your little one loves horses, consider therapeutic riding lessons at Agape Unbridled Hope’s Cicero location. The center works with children ages four and over with autism, ADD/ADHD, Down Syndrome and a variety of other medical diagnoses. Submit your inquiry at www.agaperiding.org.