Every year, the Vance family attends a five-day Joni and Friends Family Retreat for families affected by disability. This year at family retreat, I talked with Dave Wold of Coon Rapids, Minnesota. He and his wife are raising two boys, James, 13, and Joseph, 12. (Editor’s note: There are family retreats nationwide, including Mission Springs in the Santa Cruz Mountains)
“When James was two and a half, the school system did an assessment and told us they thought he had some form of disability,” said 56-year-old Wold in a telephone interview. “They weren’t sure if he had a cognitive disability or was on the autism spectrum.” James had missed most of his early life milestones: he hadn’t begun walking until age two and speaking until three.
Said Wold, “At that point, we aggressively began different types of treatment, education, and therapy, because we realized that if James had challenges, we wanted to equip him best we could to help him have a successful life.”
James ended up being diagnosed with a more problematic form of autism spectrum disorder. Then came Joseph.
“Unlike James, Joseph progressed quickly,” said Wold. “He seemed exceptional in many ways. He walked at eight months and spoke early.” But later, Joseph would have significant problems communicating and socializing with children. When he was four, doctors diagnosed him with Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism spectrum disorder. A National Institutes of Mental Health website states that all children with autism spectrum disorder have deficits in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and have repetitive behaviors or interests.
Said Wold, “And some of James’ (inappropriate) behaviors today include throwing things, hitting or yelling. It’s mostly due to frustration he feels when he wants to do something and can’t. The best thing I can do during one of his (emotional) meltdowns is to not react in a way that makes things worse or to escalate tensions.” Wold ‘s biggest challenge raising his boys has been in having to develop in himself a more patient attitude. His tendency has been to let their frustrations become his, he said.
James and Joseph have been a joy to raise, too. James, for example, enjoys saying “Hi” and smiling at everyone he meets in public. He loves brightening people’s days. “In fact, James brings that bubbling, shiny personality everywhere he goes,” said Wold. “People in the community know him and miss him when he doesn’t come around.”