It was a nightmare of a pregnancy for Jennie McDowell over 10 years ago when she gave birth to twins after 54 days in the hospital.
Evan, 2 pounds 8 ounces, and Erin, 1 pound 12 ounces, were tiny when they came into the world, so small one of their legs could fit inside of a wedding band.
Despite being slightly heavier, Evan experienced more health problems. He had bleeding of the brain when he was just 1 day old and that led to cerebral palsy. Then he was diagnosed with autism before he turned 3.
“He didn’t have a lot of the symptoms initially because he was making eye contact and he was social,” said Jennie. “But then he started to fixate more on things. He would stare at lights and there would be a lot of repetitive behavior like opening and closing cabinets, lifting the toilet lid, turning lights off and on.”
Her husband, Charles, says Evan didn’t exhibit autistic characteristics initially and his cognitive abilities appeared normal. But he says things began to change after a round of immunization shots.
“There are still questions about autism and what flips the switch and causes kids to develop something like this,” said Charles. “Erin had the same shots at the same time and it didn’t affect her, but girls aren’t as likely to develop autism as boys are. I know there is far more good than bad that comes with the immunization shots, but I think they should break them up more and not give so many at once.”
According to the Autism Society, research indicates genetics along with environmental toxins combine to create the disability that impairs a person’s ability to interact with others. Some people are affected less severely than others and can be highly functional.
The Centers for Disease Control says the prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in every 110 births in the United States and 1 in 70 boys.
It’s estimated 1.5 million Americans are living with some form of autism.
“Keeping a routine is very important because if anything changes it’s usually met with unhappiness,” said Jennie. “It makes it hard because you have to think out everything you do and think about the reaction it might cause.”
One example is the McDowells can’t attend church together because they are unsure of what Evan’s behavior might be. So they take turns attending services with one staying home with Evan.
As for his hobbies, Evan enjoys walking, listening to music, and playing with a soccer ball. He also likes to sing. “Dr. Phil” and “Wheel of Fortune” are his two favorite TV shows.
Evan is a special ed student at Hickory Creek Elementary in the room of Laura Evans. He’s good a memorization and can say the “Pledge of Allegiance” and the school’s code of conduct.
April is recognized as National Autism Awareness Month. A Queens for a Cause Autism 5K Run will be held in downtown McMinnville this Saturday, April 21, beginning at 9 a.m. Registration is $30 and can be done before the race.
With the prevalence of autism increasing, it’s important to know characteristic behaviors of the disorder. Signs usually become obvious during early childhood (2 to 6 years).
Here are five behaviors that signal further evaluation of autism is warranted:
• Does not babble or coo by 12 months
• Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
• Does not say single words by 16 months
• Does not say two-word phrases by 24 months
• Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Having any of these red flags does not mean your child has autism. But a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a professional with knowledge about autism.