Local parent of 5-year-old with autism shares hurdles and joys
“He is such a sweet, loving boy,” Ashley Earls stated as she described her oldest son, Kole. Not only is Kole a wonderful son, but he is also a great friend, a caring older brother to his two year old sibling Cooper, and has recently discovered the fun of playing soccer. Kole is also autistic, but that does not define him.
Ashley had her suspicions early on that her now five-year old son might have autism. Her pregnancy with him was very difficult, and he was “a tiny little thing” when he was born. After his birth, he had a plethora of maladies, especially
Ashley noticed Kole was hitting milestones a little later than other children his age, and when he couldn’t find the words or ways to express himself, he became frustrated. “It was really, really hard,” confessed Ashley. After being on a waitlist for about six months, Kole, who was almost three at the time, was finally able to get in to see a specialist, who subsequently diagnosed him with autism.
Ashley recalled, “I just remember them coming in and saying really coldly ‘He does have autism’…the nurse in me wanted to advocate, but the mom in me just bawled…I remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh. What do we do next?’”
Taking advantage of various resources, Ashley did figure out what to do next. Kole is currently enrolled in preschool at Whiteford Elementary in the Sylvania School District, where he is provided with intervention services, mixing “typical” kids with children with special needs. Kole is thriving with the help of his teacher, Mr. Eric.
Rehab Dynamic and his occupational therapist have also been an immense help. However, despite Kole’s successes, some people haven’t realized the struggles Ashley and Kole have had to overcome and continue to face. One of those struggles is judgment from other parents.
Ashley has had to deal with “mom-glares” from others when Kole becomes overstimulated, resulting in his kicking and screaming. There have been times when he would sit at a restaurant with an iPad and headphones, a tool used to help him stay focused and prevent overstimulation by restaurant noises, and adults would walk by, commenting on how Ashley was using the iPad as a babysitter.
Someone at a grocery store once told her to “learn to control your children before having another one,” after seeing Kole upset. What that adult didn’t know was that the lights in a grocery stores or the noises or even the conveyor belt at check-out can be overwhelming for a child with autism.
“I wish there was more awareness for autism,” said Ashley. She also explained, “You never know anyone’s backstory, whether an adult or child. You can’t judge because you just don’t know.”
When asked about tips for other parents to help with teaching their children acceptance, Ashley suggested the children’s book Jacob the Flapping Dinosaur Goes to School. She also said that parents’ guidance of their children on how to interact with Kole and other children with autism can make a huge difference.
She spoke of one little boy at Kole’s preschool whose mom always told him to say “bye” to every child in his class when he left. Ashley said that small gesture meant so much to her and Kole because he would come home and talk about his friend, and it was a relief for her to hear that he had a friend. The friendship has continued between the two and Ashley has found a great support group with other moms at the preschool.