Jeffrey’s Story – Part I
By Jeff’s big sister: the amazing Lauren
The tiny, blond, blue-eyed boy was covered in love as thick as his favorite blanket from the day he was born. Everyone adored him and, in truth, he adored everyone back. People would walk into a room and smile when they saw the small boy and he would look up at them through his child eyes and smile just as warmly back. That heart-warming grin was plastered across his face every waking second of the day.
One evening, his mother and sister were going to the supermarket to get some food for dinner. The little boy was in the backseat babbling away, as most one year olds do, as his mother and sister went around to the back seat to take him into the store. Just as they opened the rear doors, the car in front of the family turned on it's headlights as it began to back out of its parking space. As the car lit up a huge smile exploded on the boy's face. The mother laughed as the smile vanished along with the head-lights.
"He thought we were taking a picture!" The daughter giggled. "What a smart kid! He knows to smile when having his picture taken." She said as she remembered that he had done this before. Whenever a light flashed, the boy would smile; it didn't matter what it was or where it flashed....a grin always appeared.
Months later, the boy went into his doctor's office with a tiny cold. That was the fateful day he had to get his shots. He was getting the routine four that day: HIB, DPT, MMR, and Polio. No one was worried, because he was in the doctor’s hands; therefore, would be safe. Unfortunately, the boy was not at all safe. He came home from the doctor's office crying and unusually unhappy. Well, he had a cold and was just pricked with a very uncomfortable needle. What is there to expect from a fifteen month old? Definitely not what happened within the next seven days.
The boy stopped smiling at flashing lights or at cameras, he stopped waving hello and goodbye, he lost all eye contact and social skills, and he no longer spoke or babbled at all. What was wrong? The family thought it was normal because he was still getting over his cold and should get back to normal when he felt better, so they were told.
The family began to worry when almost a year had gone by and their child still didn't know how to talk. This constant worrying drove them to take their boy to see the doctor. He was just a late talker, there was nothing to worry about. Months slowly went by, and there was no change. The family took him to a hearing specialist and found out that he wasn't deaf or even slightly hard of hearing. Again they were told there was still nothing to worry about and he would come around eventually. Finally, he was taken to a different doctor. The boy was diagnosed as autistic in September of 1999. What is that? What is Autism?
Autism: a neuro-biological disorder that affects physical, social, and language skills.
The boy is now three and a half years old. He still doesn't talk. He just re-learned how to wave hello and good-bye. He is in therapy 21-30 hours a week. Now, he smiles when he sees you and now can look directly into your eyes, but he still can't communicate with you. He can't tell you what he wants, he can't tell you when he's hurt, and he can't tell you that he loves you. He can never eat the things normal three year olds eat. No chocolate, no wheat, no milk, no bread, no caramel, no cookies, no cake, no ice cream, no Burger King or McDonald’s. Everything that touches his three-year old lips is homemade. He lives a very guarded life, but one that is also dearly loved.
This little boy is my brother. His name is Jeffrey Ackerman. One year ago he was diagnosed with Autism because of the MMR vaccine he received when he was only fifteen months old while he was sick with the flu. Today Autism is four times more common than Down Syndrome; yet, no one knows about it. I know I didn't. My teacher's don't. Not one of my family members of friends did until that fateful day in September which changed my life and that of those around me.
My brother will never be able to go to Chucky E. Cheese’s with his friends to get pizza. He will never be able to have cake and ice cream at his birthday parties. While he should be out playing, he is in his room 3-6 hours a day doing instructional therapy and learning how to draw, match colors, and his alphabet. He has a full-time job at three years old.
If I was instructed to chose one event that has impacted my life in such a way that it would never be the same, it would not take me very long to come up with my answer. That day that changed my life I will never forget. I still see the way my mother’s eyes teared up when she told me that Jeffrey had a very serious disorder, the way her voice quivered when she said those words. My life was forever changed that day that Jeff went in to have those shots and that day that he was diagnosed.
We have to be very careful what we eat, say, do, and put on in my brother’s presence. We cannot kiss him with lipstick or chapstick on our lips. We cannot put certain kinds of sunscreen on him when we take him to the beach, and we can’t wash his hair or brush his teeth with certain products. The gluten, which what is found in wheat and most of the food we eat, including make-up, chapsticks, sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, and food products have been weaned out of Jeff’s system because of the intolerance and inability to process these products in children with autism.
I go to school everyday having this knowledge that most of my classmates don’t possess. I know what Autism is and how it has affected my life and that of my family’s; and it is very hard to go to school five days a week with people that just don’t understand. I have to explain it to my teachers and my friends when I bring up current events in class that are related to Autism. They don’t understand why this issue is so important to me. Perhaps they may never. I see these people walk around school oblivious to the SAC (Special Abilities Cluster) kids when it is I that see these poor children and how they are treated, made fun of, taunted, and laughed at. One day, my brother may be one of those children and it hurts me to think that one day he may be made fun of at school for something that happened to him when he was just a little baby. He can’t help that he is different but the other kids won’t understand that, they will only see that he isn’t like them and they will make fun of him for it.
Jeff’s is a sad story, but I must say that it will not have a sad ending. Science tells us that 50% of these children who receive medical, therapeutic, and dietary intervention recover in mainstream society before the age of ten. My family works very hard, day and night, with this vision of a recovered Jeffrey in our minds. We will stop at nothing till we reach our goal, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears we must shed. My family and I pray every night for my baby brother and I know one day we will hear from God what we so desperately long to hear.
About the author : Lauren is Jeff’s big sister. There is a 14 year age difference between Jeff and Lauren. Lauren has been an instrumental person in Jeff’s life providing much love and support. Lauren originally wrote this essay as a high school junior. She liked the essay so much she used it as part of her college entrance paperwork. University of California of Irvine accepted Lauren starting in September 2001.
As a parent I am so proud of Lauren and her accomplishments but most of all I am so proud of her as a person. She has a big heart, is very intelligent, funny and caring that she is an honor to have in our family. Parents are supposed to raise and teach there children, but to my surprise Lauren has been one of the best teachers to me in my life. I love you Lauren!