One of the many

Sara Bennett

Parents of children with autism say patience is the key to coping

Stephen Meyer, 18, looks over artwork he meticulously colored during school. Meyer was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. PHOTOS BY ABIGAIL S. FISHER | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Stephen and Christopher Meyer, 18-year-old identical twins, played a brightly lit pinball machine named “The Getaway” in the far corner of their living room.

When Stephen launched the pinball a certain way, a police car on the game’s faceplate lit up.

After playing two rounds, Stephen and Christopher took apart the machine, explaining its wiring and mechanics.

“Those lights make the police car light up,” Stephen said.

As identical twins, Stephen and Christopher look alike, and they both enjoy pinball. Christopher has hopes of attending Rochester Institute of Technology. Stephen, however, cannot read.

Stephen is good with electronics and computers, but lacks academic and social abilities. Their interests parallel, but their abilities are far apart.

Fifteen years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with autism, but his mother, Betsy Meyer, has never allowed the diagnosis to change how he is treated.

“There is no difference between (my children),” Betsy said. “They’re normal kids. Just be patient with them.”

Patience and family support are the keys to success, Betsy said. But she said support was difficult to find at first.

“When he was diagnosed, autism wasn’t as prevalent as it is now,” Betsy said.

According to a 2007 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, one in 150 8-year-olds has an autism spectrum disorder.

Previously, the same group determined that the prevalence of the disorders ranged anywhere from one in 500 to one in 166 8-year-olds.

But according to the American Psychological Society, the rising prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is a farce as studies fail to disclose the increasing awareness of the disorders, the changes in diagnostic criteria and the problems with statistics used to calculate the prevalence.

Nevertheless, researchers and educators alike continue to use data from the governmental organization as the basis for their concerns.

Understanding, Betsy said, is one of the most difficult parts for both the family with a child who has autism and for the people they come in contact with.

“A lot of times (people) don’t think (Stephen) is autistic,” she said. “You’ve got to be patient with other people because he looks normal.”

Contact minority affairs, health and nursing and religion reporter Sara Bennett at [email protected].