An Exclusive Look at AUTISM With Teresa Dannaway
Encouragement speaker Derrick Hayes gives an AUTISM interview by asking six questions through each letter in the word AUTISM to give readers insightful perspectives from parents, experts, entrepreneurs, and other leaders in the field.
Today’s AUTISM Interview is with Teresa Dannaway who has an eight-year-old-year-old son (Tyler) with autism and apraxia. Around 15 months Tyler started having seizures and GI issues. This is when he lost his speech (he had about 10 words before the seizures). Teresa said her sister-in-law who has a master’s degree in special education suggested they start him on a gluten free dairy free diet. “We started that right away and it was not very difficult to transition him since he had not been on solid foods that long,” Teresa said.
Tyler has been on the gluten free dairy free diet ever since. “We saw a huge difference when we took him off it for a week in preschool. In fact, the teachers begged us to put him back on the diet. He had become aggressive and extremely hyper when off the diet. Tyler was diagnosed with autism at two and a half years old. We were not shocked with the diagnosis because we had already had a suspicion,” she said. Teresa added that the hardest part they had was finding all the resources available to them, financial as well as therapeutic. “This is primarily why I started a local support group.
We meet once a month in person and I have a private Facebook group as well. Whenever I come across an autism event, I post it in my Facebook group. That is one way I try to share information. I also host guest speaker events. In fact, we just had one last week about flying with a child with autism. Another way I share information is through my job as Family Care Navigator. I speak to families who are just diagnosed and feel lost. Once you receive the diagnosis, you go through a grieving process because the life you had dreamed of after having a child is different now. There is a poem I like to share called Welcome to Holland. It helps explain the new world these recently diagnosed parents enter,” Teresa said.
A is for Awareness
When and how did you first become aware that something was different?
At six months we knew something was different when he would not respond to his name. We thought (like many other families) that he had a hearing problem, so he was evaluated for that. His hearing was fine. Our pediatrician at the time was a wait and see kind of doctor.
U is for Unique
How has this experience been Unique for you and your child?
This journey has made me a stronger person, more patient, and outspoken. With a child with autism, you have to be their voice/advocate especially if they are non-verbal.
T is for Tools
What tools are there now that were not there in the beginning that could help other parents?
When our son was diagnosed, the doctors gave us an outdated packet of information and sent us on our way. Luckily, he was already in a developmental preschool and getting therapy there. Now there are two family care navigators at that clinic (I am one of them) who help parents get the resources they need. My son inspired me to start a support group as well. We have around 200 members!
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I is for Inspire
As a parent when you look at your child or children what inspires you?
As I look at my child, I am amazed at how hard he works without complaining. He has therapy at school as well as after school every day during the school week. He inspires me to keep working hard and never give up.
S is for Support
Are there things you struggle with or have struggled with and what types of support do you still need?
At the beginning, we struggled with where to go next and what else to do. At that time there were no support groups or family care navigators to contact. We found resource information through a friend of a friend. We have been lucky to have a very supportive family. Some parents are not so lucky.
M is for Manage
What keys to success can you leave with parents so that they can better manage their day to day efforts?
It is important to have an outlet for yourself where you can relax or let out steam—even if it is just for 15 minutes. Early intervention is the key. Explore all the options available and join a support group. Never give up. Also, remember this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time and lots of therapies to help your child.
Editor’s note: Sadly, after this AUTISM Interview was conducted, Tyler unexpectedly passed away after a short illness. He was an advocate for autism and apraxia and was an inspiration to many. He will be greatly missed. http://m.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2018/jan/18/tyler-dannaway-2018-01-18/
Derrick Hayes is an author, motivational speaker, and paraprofessional in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Georgia.
This article was featured in Issue 80 – Conquering Challenges With ASD