An Exclusive Look at AUTISM with Chip Wright
Encouragement Speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM Interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word AUTISM to give readers an insightful perspective from parents, experts, entrepreneurs and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Chip Wright who is the father of a son with autism and serves on the Board of Directors for Regional Center of Orange County (RCOC). RCOC is one of 21 private, nonprofit organizations contracted by the State of California’s Department of Developmental Services to coordinate lifelong services and supports for the more than 21,000 individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in Orange County. The regional center is the first stop for those seeking to obtain local services and supports to help them live safely and with dignity in the community.
To learn more about RCOC, visit the website at www.rcocdd.com.
A is for Awareness
When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
When our son was about two-and-a-half, he was behind in most of the milestone markers, i.e., walking, talking, potty training. Our pediatrician gave the typical response, stating that “boys develop slower than girls” and not to worry. When the pace of his development did not improve, we consulted a neurologist at University of California Irvine (UCI) for an assessment, and he was diagnosed with autism.
U is for Unique
How has this experience been Unique for you and your child?
One of the best pieces of advice that we received from a friend that also had a child on the spectrum was to liken our future journey to a planned trip. She said, imagine you are getting on a plane and thinking you were going to Paris, France only to find out the plane actually landed in Rome, Italy. Both are great and interesting places, but it was not what you were expecting.
Our journey with our son was certainly unique and at times difficult, but it has also been very rewarding. He is about to graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthrozoology. He has also traveled to Africa and Alaska pursuing his passion for wildlife care and conservation. All unique experiences, many of which we could not have dreamed of for him when our journey started.
T is for Tools
What tools are there now that were not there at the beginning that could help other parents?
The tool that we used, in the beginning, was to contact our local school district and Regional Center of Orange County to determine the available treatment options and resources. They directed us to their Intervention Center for Early Childhood, and they helped us map out our treatment plan. In addition to weekly speech therapy, we also implemented an Applied Behavioral Analysis program administered through the Lovaas Institute for Early Intervention.
Our trained treatment team was truly amazing and worked him from the time he was three years old until eight years old. If we fast forward to his young adult life today, the colleges he has attended (Landmark College in Putney, VT and Beacon College in Leesburg, FL; both schools are focused on providing a college education to students that learn differently) have used advanced computer learning enhancements like Kurzweil 3000, Inspiration, Dragon Naturally Speaking. These technologies have helped our son organize his thoughts, increase reading comprehension and even work through social anxieties.
I is for Inspire
As a parent when you look at your child or children what inspires you?[My son’s] optimism, quest for knowledge, how he treats others and his contentment. He is truly fun to be around and a very positive person. He also really goes out of his way to make others feel good and laugh. He has an amazing sense of humor. In his spare time, he is always reading and researching topics that interest him. And while he really enjoys group events and activities, he is equally content to be on his own reading or watching a movie.
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S is for Support
Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
Our most significant struggle or concern today is for his future. When he graduates from college in December of this year, he will be looking to start a career in wildlife care, training, and conservation. The next step may be an internship or a paid job in the field. That said, the interview process can be challenging for people on the spectrum. He is getting career counseling at college that also includes interview skills. We are hopeful that potential employers will value his unique gifts and passions and that will lead to a career (not just a job) in his chosen field.
M is for Manage
What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
My wife and I have embraced this journey as a partnership. We have attended almost every doctor appointment, school Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, treatment training, and college evaluation together. Having each other to lean on has made all the difference. We also did not accept the notion that our son’s condition “is what it is” and that we should just set the bar low. With each accomplishment and milestone, we kept gently pushing to get to the next level.
We proceeded with the determination that he could do something until it was proven that he could not. With the help we received, from the early diagnosis through to today, we had “hope” that he could have a full and satisfying life. Today we can happily say that our son has touched the lives of so many and he has the hope of a bright future.
This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication