Raising autistic children turned these sisters into best friends

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May 12 2014 - 9:16pm
Two Autistic Children

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.

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