Having Kristy wake up all dressed and ready to go every weekday morning is truly a blessing! With the guidance of the educational programming at Dreams she has now managed to be much more independent; making her bed, assisting with her laundry, doing dishes, sweeping, showering and self grooming!
On December 23, 1983 we found out that we would be expecting our first child! Our daughter Alicia was born in August of 1984 and our family story had begun. Adding a new member to our family proved to be quite the challenge. After several years of infertility treatments and many years of disappointment we finally received word again on December 23, 1991 (yes, 8 years later) that we were expecting! On August 23, 1992 our darling Kristy was born at Markham-Stouffville Hospital, into the welcoming arms of her thrilled big sister.
As our new family started to settle into a routine, we realized that our second child was not reacting to her environment in the same way that our first had. Kristy was not at all tolerant of being held and colic was our immediate thought. During her first year, she seemed to be the most settled while in her swing or riding in the car. She was not developing at all like her sister had, but as they say, “no two children are alike”.
Around 13 months of age, Kristy was prescribed glasses and we thought this was what was holding her back from walking and other early milestones. Others questioned if Kristy may have been hard of hearing as she rarely responded to her name, often keeping to herself and not engaging with anything or anyone. We had so many questions. Why did Kristy hate to be held or touched? Why would the sound of a vacuum, mix master, lawn mower, exhaust fan, and gas going into the car cause her to scream and melt down? After three attempts at a hearing test, we were told that Kristy had extremely sensitive hearing, especially to white noise.
Around Kristy’s second birthday we told the pediatrician that we felt Kristy had some autistic characteristics, but he dismissed our concerns, saying that was something that could not be diagnosed until closer to the age of 5. This only made us push harder and commit additional days to researching. The doctor continued to shelve our discussions for a later time. Taking matters into our own hands, we searched to find another pediatrician that would see Kristy, and after several visits and a multi-team assessment at Grandview Children’s Centre in Oshawa, where Kristy was given the diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified). In those days, this diagnosis fell under the umbrella of Autism. During these early years knowledge was our best friend and now we had a name and thus, our introduction to Autism began. There was so still so very much to learn!
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Several factors may influence the development of autism and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities, sleep disorders, anxiety and attention issues.
When Kristy was first diagnosed, autism was diagnosed in 1:250 people, compared to 2020 where it was 1:36. Autism is four times more likely to be found in boys vs girls. This gender gap is narrowing with more understanding of how autism presents differently across genders.
Kristy attended nursery school with specialized supports and later elementary and secondary school in an Associated Learning Classroom. We felt that too many children in one place would be overwhelming for her and so a small class placement where she could focus on coping and life skills was the right choice for her.
It felt like the end of Kristy’s time in school approached quickly and the task of finding the right placement for a day program was extremely difficult! Every place within Durham Region was not the right fit for her; places were either too far away to travel in rush hour, in a warehouse setting with echoing throughout the building or a space that held 30 members all in one big room! This would be a disaster waiting to happen with behaviour issues leading to overload and meltdowns!
One day while shopping at the Garden Basket, we happened upon a local magazine on the way out the door which had an ad for the Centre for Dreams within it. We were intrigued. Following several conversations with Michelle we booked a visit to the Centre. What a wonderful set up, with many rooms offering different activities, a well thought out daily schedule, and a knowledgeable and loving staff! We were told the story of how Dreams started because of a family and the family atmosphere was evident! This was Kristy’s place and THAT DAY we joined the Dreams family!
To put it mildly, the transition to Dreams was challenging for Kristy, the staff and other members. Kristy would yell throughout the day and refused to be a part of any type of activity. It took her months before she would even enter the large room for morning announcements, standing out in the hallway with her fingers in her ears! However, Kristy has come a long way and has been attending the CFD for 10 years now and she can tell you every day what she will be doing. “Monday – Art,” “Tuesday – Academics - Yoga,” “Thursday is work experience at Party City”, and of course the big highlight of the week is Fridays. Whether it is Fun Friday or bowling she is so excited to attend and “see friends”.
Dreams has become our family’s Life Line!
Having Kristy wake up all dressed and ready to go every weekday morning is truly a blessing! With the guidance of the educational programming at Dreams she has now managed to be much more independent; making her bed, assisting with her laundry, doing dishes, sweeping, showering and self grooming! Yes, we have our challenges too, but we like to focus on the strengths….Kristy loves music and sings in the exact intonation of a wide range of artists; Shania Twain, The Beatles, Prince, Taylor Swift, James Taylor and her favorite as of late; 98 Tears by Question Mark and the Mysterians. She also has a knack for puzzles and can easily put together a 300 piece puzzle completing it row by row, simply finding the piece by shape alone! It is quite amazing to watch!
I cannot say that life has been easy having a child on the Autism Spectrum, quiet the opposite, but as a ‘family’ we have learned so very much about ourselves and each other as individuals. We have been blessed that Alicia decided to pursue her career in the Autism field and has her Masters of Applied Disabilities and her BCBA. It is beautiful to watch our 8 year old granddaughter interact with Auntie knowing just how to handle her idiosyncrasies and talk to her. To see the two of them now playing Yahtzee, ring toss and having fun in the pool is something special!
My mom always told me that “God only gives you what you can handle” and I always wondered why he seemed to trust us so much?
Now we know why……it has made our family unit SO much stronger and for that we are eternally thankful!