Raising autistic children turned these sisters into best friends

May 12 2014 - 9:16pm
Two Autistic Children
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I recently found myself presented with a rare opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do. I was given the opportunity to interview parents with autistic children about their journeys, thus far, raising their child(ren). As I wrap the interviews up I have to say that the parents that I was fortunate enough to interview are without a doubt ten individuals that are to be admired. Their stories, each so different than mine, gave me a different view of how some families with an autistic child live. All these parents are facing different struggles, with different hopes, different fears, and vastly different stories to tell. Society thinks that we all walk the same path once our children are diagnosed, that our stories somehow become the same as soon as our child is labeled as autistic. Nothing is further from the truth. My hope is that these interview will give some people a different view of the parents that raise these children.

Some Background Information

Ms. Shelena Coonfield is a very special woman to me. She is a big part of who I am. She and her children are part of my heart for she is my little sister. Shelena makes one of 3 sisters that have an autistic child. Her daughter, Jayde, has mild autism. She is 7. I am technically the first to have a child diagnosed his name is Zain, his diagnosis is severe autism and several co-morbid disorders, and we have another sister with a son that has autism as well. Shelena also has 3 other children (LeNaya, Chris, and Nikira). They are the most precious kids on earth. Shelena is a remarkable person and an amazing friend and sister. She is always the first one there when someone needs a shoulder to cry on. Shelena is definitely a loving mother and some one that I am proud to call my friend.

Brooke: Thank you for doing this interview with me Shelena. Let’s jump right in. Even if I know the answers, still respond. What is Jayde’s diagnosis? Severe, Moderate, Mild (or ASD 1, 2, or 3)? Does she have any distinguishing co-morbid disorders?

Shelena: Jayde’s diagnosis is mild autism, no co-morbid disorders that we know of.

Brooke: You know, I don’t think we ever talked about how you felt when Jayde was diagnosed. We just jumped right into finding what she needed. Tell me, if you had to pick one distinguishing emotion that you felt whenever you first heard that your child has autism what would you say it was? Why?

Shelena: I was relieved! I knew there was something different about her from a couple months old. I always knew what it was from experience with my nephew [Zain], but it was still a weight lifted off my chest to have it confirmed.

Brooke: It is amazing how different it was for us. I was so confused, so scared, and a little mad at the doctor. I guess Zain being diagnosed first made a big difference. Did the doctor diagnose it right off the bat or did she go through several misdiagnoses?

Shelena: She had a correct diagnosis first off. I had a very good suspicion she was autistic already. And we were lucky to catch it early.

Brooke: No doubt we were lucky! Zain wasn’t diagnosed until he was almost 5 and he was misdiagnosed 3 times before we got the right one! So, tell me, how are your family dynamics?

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Shelena: I have 4 children. A 9 year old, LeNaya, a 7 year old (who's Autistic), Jayde, a 5 year old, Chris, and 1yr old, Nikira. Plus my boyfriend’s son, Jaydin, who is 6. My children's father, Ken, does see them a lot but it is mainly me raising them since he works so much.

Brooke: I love Ken! He is such a loving father, Jayde is so attached to him! I know what my answer is with Zain, but you tell me, what has been the hardest part about raising Jayde?

Shelena: I honestly think the hardest part about raising an autistic child is other children. It is very hard to get other children who have no exposure to autism to understand it. Our children are being bullied every day because our kids are not like the rest of them. But we are left helpless, unable to do anything about it.

Brooke: Mine use to be him being nonverbal, overtime it has turned into his meltdowns. They are so bad at times. You are right though, bullying is a big issue that needs way more attention. Children are relentless these days! I don’t want to leave the impression that autism is all hell, so, tell me what has been the funniest thing about raising Jayde?

Shelena: The funniest thing about Jayde is how sweet she is. This girl wants love from everyone! You have to hold her back from giving complete strangers hugs sometimes. It can be scary but with how loving she is you can't help but laugh about it at times.

Brooke: Oh my goodness is she ever loving! I’ve had to keep her from hugging people in Walmart! I’ve never met a child that was so loving! Moving on, a lot of us parents have one thing that we accredit a large amount of our child’s success too. What would your one thing be? Therapy? A certain teacher? Medication?

Shelena: Her success is because of you [Brooke]. You taught me everything I know about not only being a spectrum parent, but a parent in general. If it were not for you being there and telling me to get her tested because you can see signs in her as well she would not have had the early intervention that she did. To which I credit all her success

Brooke: Shelena that means more to me than you will ever know, thank you. She is my baby girl, the daughter I never had! She and Naya and Kira are so special to me. You know that and Jayde does too. So, in closing, if anything, what has raising autism taught you the most about yourself? Do you thank the disorder for that?

Shelena: You’re welcome Brooke. Ok, let’s see, raising a child with Autism has taught me to appreciate everything a whole lot more. It's taught me to cherish the small things. It’s taught me that I'm a lot more patient then I could have ever thought I could be. Well, actually, I give that one to autism and to raising 5 kids. But, yes, I thank autism every day because it’s opened a new world for my child, myself, and my family, and we'll be a lot stronger in the end because of it.

In Closing

Never in a million years, while growing up, did I think that my sister and I would both end up with special needs children. The thought never crossed my mind. Now that it is a reality I have to say that being, as we call it, ‘spectrum moms’ together has bonded us in a way that is so much deeper than a normal sibling bond. We get the things that nobody else gets about each other’s lives. We are there for one another to cry to and laugh to about things that normal parents would never understand. You see, a few years ago I realized that autism had taken my baby sister and turned her into one of my best friends and for that I thank it.

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