Nathan and Daniel are 20-year-old twins. Nathan has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Daniel does not.
“Many people told us not to start comparing the development of our twins over the first few years, but it was difficult not to compare,” said father Larry Kaplan of Draper, Utah. “Daniel was reaching many (developmental) milestones while Nathan was not. Nathan wasn’t walking or talking. He was only making sounds. Yet our pediatrician disregarded all our concerns.”
When Nathan was 20 months old, the Kaplans’ physician referred the family to specialists who, said Kaplan, “Bet us a dollar Nathan would walk and talk by 24 months.” But Nathan wouldn’t. He was able at that age to only crawl and stare off into space. He banged his head against walls. At 3, finally, Nathan was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
The National Institutes of Health defines ASD as affecting children before age 3 and being a complex developmental disability that causes challenges throughout life, such as deficits in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication. People with ASD often show repetitive behaviors and have intense interests. No cure exists.
Said Kaplan, “When he was 4, Nathan got through a window screen in our home and took off running. It was the most frightening experience we have ever had. A neighbor found him a half-mile away. We were shaking when the police car pulled up with him inside. That happened another time, too. About 40 percent of kids on the ASD spectrum are ‘wanderers.'”
Today, Nathan can’t be left by himself and has 24-hour care. He needs help getting up, showering, dressing, and preparing breakfast. The Kaplans’ biggest current concern is what will they do when Nathan “graduates” from the school system in 18 months.
Kaplan said, “I like everything about Nathan. He is the most loveable, sweet individual. He makes us laugh and we spend a tremendous amount of time reading to him.” Nathan has a close relationship with his twin brother, who often read to him when both were in high school.
In 2005, Kaplan started the U.S. Autism & Asperger Association, which, he said, “brings the most wonderful minds together (in conferences) to try to help practitioners and teachers give these kids (with autism) an opportunity (to improve).” He urged parents to speak up for their child because if they don’t, no one will.