By: Christine Vickers
Jessica Ellis says she missed all the signs. Prior to having her own child at age 32, her experience with babies and young children was minimal. Her beautiful boy, Jaden, was a good baby. Jaden never cried, yet as he grew bigger he did not point at things. He liked to watch objects spin, became fascinated with doorknobs and loved finding shiny objects that he could hide. Jessica and her husband Shawn was left wondering, was this behavior normal? At two years old, Jaden did not talk or babble and appeared completely fearless. He also had many sensory issues with fabrics, tags and textures. At three, Jaden was still not speaking. “Up until this point, I trusted the doctors when they said not to worry and that some kids just take longer to develop,” Jessica shares. “At our insistence, we began an evaluation process and upon completion on January 7, 2007, a doctor said to me, I’m sorry, Mrs. Ellis, your son has autism.”
Jessica reveals that the devastating news made her crumble. “My husband was wonderful. Instead of breaking down, he said, ok, now what are we going to do, and he began to formulate a plan.” Jaden began Park Hill preschool in the East Syracuse Minoa School District and began making great strides with the help of the teachers and therapists there. He learned how to use pictures to help his speech and at four years old, he said Mommy for the first time. “I was at the stove cooking when he said it. I waited so long to hear it. I just can’t explain the emotion of that moment, “Jessica confides.
When Jaden was diagnosed in 2007, 1 in every 150 children had autism. Currently, the numbers are 1 in 68. “Autism awareness … we all are aware of it…now we want to know why,” Jessica says. Jessica does not believe in any link between vaccines and autism noting that studies have not proven this alleged connection. She does wonder about the effect of parental age, sharing that autistic children tend to be born to older parents.
Causes aside, The Ellis family is raising Jaden with patience, love and a renewed sense of hope for his future. Faithful readers of WOUNY will remember this incredible family as we shared Jessica’s courageous battle with breast cancer in a previous issue.
Jessica cautiously notes that she believes Jaden is in recovery. “I don’t want to say that he is cured because it is not a disease, but his symptoms have gone down. We have tried to affect some of the environmental factors that impact autistic children. He eats organic food. No red dyes. We now live on a farm and grow much of our own food. We can clearly see a difference.”
The result… Jaden is a happy 7th grade student who attends school in a blended classroom with other high-functioning autistic students and neuro-typical children. “We know we are lucky; Jaden has high-functioning autism. He tells his Dad and I that he loves us. He’ll live a normal life, drive a car and move away from home. “Our goal is to get him out of the house” laughs Jessica, injecting a bit of humor to this somber topic.
A typical day for Jaden includes after-school activities, chores and like most kids… homework. Jessica notes that he loves legos, computers and animals. He talks about becoming a veterinarian and as Jessica shares, “we hope Cornell will be the place for him. “ For now, he enjoys taking care of his pug, chinchilla and various other animals on their farm. Jaden is particularly close to his devoted parents. Jessica notes that they have never had babysitters as she and Shawn have arranged their work schedules so that one of them is bringing Jaden to school and one of them is picking him up and is with him after school. “Jaden just loves spending time with his Dad. Sunday is their special day, and activities might include bowling, a visit to Dave & Buster’s or working on cars together.”
For other parents with autistic children, Jessica offers this hopeful message, “I know it can be overwhelming, but your child will not die. Make sure you have continuous communication with the school. Try not to focus so much on scheduling your child, but spending time with them in activities that they truly enjoy. Remember just because your child has autism, does not mean that they don’t have a future!”
Components of Jessica’s important message can be found in the current success of the Rising Tide Car Wash business. This company has recently been profiled on national news outlets and is drawing praise for its innovative approach to utilizing the special skill set of autistic individuals. The premise begins with the idea that its founder, John D’ Eri, wanted to design a business for his autistic son to work in. He thus opened a car wash, employing autistic workers. With his other, neuro typical son, as the chief operating officer, this family business has become a success in Parkland, Florida with plans for expansion. As model businesses like this continue to grow, so many children like Jaden will have additional opportunities to live happy and fulfilling lives.