Ken Blum of Orrville, Ohio, is nationally known as an expert in the community newspaper industry and regularly writes about industry issues. He and wife Nancy have a 35-year-old son, Matthew, who lives at home and has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
According to the National Institutes of Health, ASD “refers to a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning.”
In a telephone interview, 69-year-old Blum said, “Matthew seemed to be developing normally until he was two, which is typical among children with autism. He wasn’t learning to speak or relating to other kids, and seemed to be staring at toys rather than playing. At three, we took him to Akron Children’s Hospital, where a psychiatrist diagnosed him with (ASD). I wouldn’t say we were devastated, but like any parent, we were very concerned.”
Blum described Matthew as very laid back, both now and when he was a child. He had very few behavioral challenges growing up except during his teen years when his anxiety reached “extreme levels.” Matthew would break and throw things, had emotional outbursts, and was unable to function well in a mainstreamed school setting. Once through that rough patch, though, he settled back to his “old self.”
Today, Matthew responds using one-word answers, but understands much more than he expresses, said Blum. Matthew goes to a sheltered workshop twice weekly, enjoys jazz music (owning more than 400 jazz CDs), and absolutely loves watching The Price is Right.
Blum said, “The angle we took in raising him was to enjoy him. We aren’t into the martyr complex. I see so many news specials in which interviewed parents talk about their child. They act as if (their situation) is an end of the world tragedy. You can see the stress and sorrow on their faces. But we accept Matthew’s disability, accept him for who he is, and let him be himself. Our whole thing is that we want him safe and happy. We love him and he’s part of the family.”
Blum doesn’t especially believe in “high intensity” therapy for children with autism, thinking some parents of children with ASD place too much pressure on their child. He advised parents to seek out proven, balanced, solid interventions early as possible.