- (written by Tyler's father, Jeff)
Tyler Hill was, by all personal and professional accounts, a ‘normal’ baby boy. Tyler was born in December of 2007 and was our first baby. As such we smothered him with love and kisses and were abounding with the joy that all first time parents experience. Tyler progressed at a typical pace. He was crawling by 8 months, walking by 1 year, and had a healthy diet of solid foods starting right around 6 months. He was vaccinated at the regular schedule as prescribed by Health professionals and we had no premonition of any health concerns at all in those early years! He babbled early and began saying, “ball” around 11 months and even made animal sounds and was very playful and engaged with us. He was a terrific baby.
Of course, this all changed in Tyler’s second year of life. I admit that we were in denial as we were new to parenting and weren’t entirely sure what ‘Autism’ even was. Around 15 to 18 months Tyler became quite unresponsive to us calling him by name and became very emotional, which was in stark contrast to his previous very happy and content demeanor. He also slowly stopped using the words he had learned and responding to our requests to make animal noises or point to certain body parts. As family and others suggested that Tyler’s behaviour matched that of a child with Autism our world came crashing down. Fear and emotions of the unknown future crippled our ability to intervene and after much prayer and research we felt like we needed to stop wallowing and instead do something to help our boy. However, despite our wanting to do this, our medical doctor told us that we were ‘hypochondriacs’ and overly concerned first-time parents when Tyler was 18 months old. It wasn’t until he was 2 years old, and the only word he would say was, "more," that we finally got a referral to a local speech program. Over the course of this program (which was a playgroup type setting that taught language skills) we became even more convinced that there was more going on than just a speech delay. At nearly 2 and a half, we finally demanded to be referred to a pediatrician. His opinion was that Tyler did not have Autism but that there were definitely some things that we abnormal. So we were referred on to a Developmental Pediatrician for further assessment. We waited nearly a year to see the Developmental Pediatrician and at that appointment, when Tyler was 3 years, 4 months old, he was formally diagnosed with Autism. This did not come as a surprise to us by this point. In fact, having Tyler diagnosed was a great thing. Subsequently, we would have funding, medical support and access to pursue some potential solutions.
At the time Tyler was diagnosed, Lindsey (Tyler's mom) and I were already certain that our boy had Autism. We had read books and watched movies and learned as much as we could. We asked questions to whatever professionals we could find to get any answers we could. What we found was what parents everywhere coping with the trials of Autism are learning. That is, we can speculate how it happened and we can guess at what might help but we cannot give you any answers definitively. There was no guidance from medical professionals on what we should do. It seemed like our only option was to cope. Through reading we decided to start by trying something more. In addition to using funding available to us for Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and Behavioural Consultants, we tried many different alternative therapies including a gluten-free/casien-free diet, a variety of vitamins and supplements, methylated B12 injections, equine therapy, sensory strategies, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), and more. While each of these strategies have proven helpful for many autistic children, we found no significant benefits for Tyler with any of them.
Just before Tyler turned 3, he started on an upward trend. He began learning words and said his first spontaneous word (other than 'more') in over a year and a half. Since then he has continued to slowly improve! Tyler started preschool at about 3 1/2 and began to improve even more. He was able to socialize with others and build trust with different peers and educators. It was during this phase that we realized that trying everything others did was not a recipe for success. Instead, customizing therapy based on Tyler’s needs and, more importantly, his strengths was the best approach to helping our son. Customizing his therapy, just like customizing education based on a needs assessment will help a student, we decided was the best approach.
Right now Tyler is a happy 6 year old. He is very loving and affectionate to us, his family. In addition, Tyler is becoming more social with his brothers, his extended family and even with those for whom he has built a familiarity with. Tyler has a fantastic memory and can remember songs and lines from movies unusually quickly. Moreover, he is now frequently speaking to us in 3-5 word phrases. However, Tyler still undergoes significant regressions where anger and emotions are unpredictable and difficult to manage. His social ability is very limited and public behaviours and concern for personal safety are of great concern to his mother and me. Today we feel that Tyler has great potential and great capacity for improvement.
Ultimately, we feel strongly that there are answers out there and best practices for each family and child coping with Autism. My favourite words from the book Son Rise: The Miracle Continues remain these: “to us acceptance never meant passivity or inaction.” We feel that parents everywhere share in the important duty to not only care for and provide for their children but also to nurture them. To us that means to help enrich their lives by every means possible. Our organization wishes to help boys and girls just like Tyler pursue whatever course of enrichment that might be.