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Fighting against autism

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By Nick Schrager

Trent Taylor

ttaylor@readthesun.com

According to Autism Speaks, autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the US.

Keith Vanover has lived with autism his whole life and he and his mother, Kate Essex, have learned that autism isn’t a disorder that comes by itself but usually will present with other issues as well. Along with as having autism, Vanover also has severe ADHD.

“Most of it (autism) appears in social and emotional deficits,” Essex said. “There usually not just Autism there is usually something else. When Keith was diagnosed in kindergarten he wasn’t just diagnosed with autism, but a severe ADHD, they would actually put the severe in front of it. He also was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder with obsessive compulsive features.”

Over the years Vanover has learned how to adapt and grow with autism and severe ADHD. He eventually stoped taking his ADHD medicine and is learning to live without them.

“He’s made great strides, so we went from taking medicine from kindergarten through probably eight grade for ADHD. When we got to high school he wanted to try without it,” Essex said. “So, he hasn’t had any medicine since his freshman year.”

Vanover has a very high IQ and does very well in school. His issues come from social and emotional disconnects. As he has gotten older, Vanover found it easier to talk with others at school, and to make friends.

“His grades are good. He has a high IQ, he averages A’s and B’s,” Essex said. “His deficits are social and emotional.”

“Mostly social and stuff,” Vanover said. “I usually pick up on a subject real nice and can learn a subject really quick.”

Vanover has a big interest in computers and is taking classes to fit his interest at the vocational school. Essex said that he is also very interested in video games and loves spending time playing them.

“Like a lot of people, you see on the news he has a high interest in video games and he does a lot with them,” Essex said. “And because he likes computers so much tell him what you do at the vocational school.”

“At the vocational school I am in computer drafting and design and other stuff like that,” Vanover said. “Computer modeling and stuff is what I am good at.”

Essex said her son had a fascination with the “Star Wars” movie franchise. It was something he enjoyed and would talk with random strangers if he felt like it. He got help with behavior support so he could learn how to communicate with people.

“He was all about ‘Star Wars’ and at times just go up to someone and talking about ‘Star Wars.’ It would be like me just coming up to you and spewing off ‘Star Wars’ stuff. I don’t know you, I don’t know your name. He get’s behavioral supports,” Essex said. “You just learn better social skills and how to interact with others. He was so into ‘Star Wars’ in kindergarten that when Luke was born he said he was Luke Skywalker.”

Essex said they never hid anything from her son. The more he knows about he issues he faces, the better he can adapt to them.

“It is not something that we hide or not tell him. Because when he understands what the issues that he has issues with knowing them helps him to be able to fix them. If he was to get upset and scream and yell,” Essex said. “There is a difference and a lot of times you can’t tell. Is this kid having a temper tantrum or is he having a meltdown because he is sensory overloaded. So now the older the child get’s that has autism who is high functioning, because he is high functioning. The more he is able to understand. Now, if he get’s upset or behaves erratically when he calms down he can come back and apologize. When me and you get mad we can just walk away, but he can’t. A lot of that he has been working on to control his emotions and things like that.”

It wasn’t easy for Vanover to make friends growing up, but now he has figured out ways to best talk to people. This has made it easier for him to talk to others and make friends.

“It was kind of hard. Now I see there is a finite good way of doing things, and just scared of messing up,” Vanover said. “It’s always the start. I can keep things going once it started, but starting something is particularly hard for me.”

With autism there are things that Vanover always needs to be working on. The one thing that his family didn’t want to happen was that he uses his autism as an excuse.

“One thing I have always told him is don’t use your autism as an excuse, but there are times where, for example we had an issue with Commander Day packets. I know Keith did it, I know he was on the computer, but somehow it didn’t get put in the right spot and it made him get a lower grade,” Essex said. “He has come so far, but don’t want to say well he has autism can he do it again? At the same time, if he understood it better he might have done better. When he does get upset we tell him it’s not an excuse you know what happened. So next time let’s try to not let that happen next time.”