The National Institutes of Health defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a “complex developmental disability” with symptoms starting before age three that causes “delays or problems in many different skills” from infancy to adulthood. No cure or cause has been found. People with ASD have deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and they show repetitive behaviors and have intense interests.
Autism has caught our nation’s attention only within the last 20 years. The same could be said for John Doiron of Savage, Minnesota. His now 16-year-old son Nick was diagnosed in 2002.
“After getting the diagnosis, my wife and I were relieved to have a label for it,” said Doiron. “Nick had showed many delays in comprehension. At his diagnosis (at age 6), he was already in special education and was doing fine with the other kids, but he never socially interacted. It would take prompting for him to acknowledge someone else.”
Today, Nick doesn’t talk or understand the potential dangers around him, such as moving cars that could hurt him. He can feed and clothe himself, but needs help taking a bath or shower.
Every person with autism is different, said Doiron. As for Nick, he happens to love food. Said Doiron, “Nick has downed bottles of pancake syrup before and if allowed will eat an entire bunch of bananas in one sitting. He likes to chew, but only on food. If allowed, he could eat an entire package of American cheese or bologna (in one sitting).”
The different appetite aside, Doiron likes plenty about his son. “For one, I love his spontaneous laughter,” he said. “And when we ask if he wants a cookie, for instance, sometimes he might have a smile on his face. For me, that’s fun to see even if we don’t always know what the smile is about. We laugh right along with him because we know he’s happy, and for us his being happy is important. Because he has autism and is nonverbal, it can be tough for him when he’s frustrated because he can’t tell us what we can do to help him. But unlike many (people with autism), Nick doesn’t have fits of anger or meltdowns when his routine has been disrupted.”
Though nonverbal, Nick does enjoy looking over Dr. Seuss books and spelling out basic words using magnetic letters on the kitchen refrigerator.