The affects of autism are being felt far and wide, especially in the local area. Children every day are being diagnosed with the neurological disorder, all while the cause of it remains a mystery. For one family, the mystery of it is a hard fact to fight but one they're willing to battle head on.
WTOL's Jenna Lee spent the afternoon with Michelle, Brad and their son, Jackson, at the Mercy Autism Services Clinic in Maumee earlier this year.
While there, she learned about Jackson, an energetic, full of life 4 ½ year old. And it didn't take long to realize that the blue-eyed boy is the center of Michelle and Brad's world.
Born in September of 2009—Jackson is a lover of trains, tractors and legos.
At the age of two, Jackson's parents tell WTOL that his health started to show serious concern.
"We thought he had hearing problems. He had some issues with ear infections. He had a few words—and then he didn't say them anymore," said Jackson's mother.
Sadly, their son's silent demeanor was a painful sign of what was to come.
"When he turned three, he was diagnosed with autism," explained Michelle.
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 68 children—an estimated 2 million in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The mental condition is characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people.
"It was a little difficult at first—I looked at it as a glass half full as opposed to a glass half empty type situation," said Brad.
Jackson's diagnosis was only the beginning—doctors said he lagged behind in many social and verbal areas of his life compared to other kids his age.
Autism—was a great unknown for Jackson's family. It was something Michelle and Brad never expected.
"It was foreign to us."
Jackson's journey through autism took a turn for the better, thanks in part to the services offered by Mercy Children's Hospital.
Jackson's speech language pathologist, Stephanie McGill, opened up about her experience with the little boy.
"When Jackson first started with us he had extremely limited expressive and receptive language skills. He also had very limited play skills and lacked some social interaction with adults and peers," said McGill.
With the help of the Chip program—a program dedicated to addressing the needs of children with ASD is a highly structured and nurturing environment with rich staffing ratios.
"Jackson is in a group setting where we work on social interaction with peers. We do different activities like art, story and music. We really get to focus on some gross motor, fine motor, speech and language aspects," explained McGill.
Two years after Jackson's diagnosis, his therapist says he's progressing very well.
"To think where Jackson was a couple years ago and where he is now is totally different now," said McGill. "He's telling me what he thinks and what he wants to play with—typical things a little guy would say."
Jackson's parents are marking his big moments of success, too.
"He started labeling everything in his environment. He answers the phone and talks on the phone. He loves the phone," said Michelle.
The moments of success, however, would not have been made possible if it were not for around-the-clock focus, attention and treatment.
Currently, Jackson spends two days a week in a private pre-school program and two days a week at the Mercy Autism Services Clinic. He also takes part in a Pre-K program two days a week and individual therapy once a week.
"He's a busy little boy!"
His health-related expenses all come at a cost—both emotionally and financially.
"Insurance doesn't cover the CHIP program and any additional therapies—occupational, speech therapies," said Michelle.
Autism is one of the fastest-growing disorders in the world. It is putting a strain on affected families—costing up to $60,000 a year.
While Michelle and Brad say it is very expensive, they believe it's an expense worth sacrificing everything for.
"His very first language evaluation that he had at his Pre-School, the teacher said to me that Jackson received a zero score in the communication area, she even showed it to me. He didn't get any points—when you see that on paper it's devastating. But now, his language has moved into the lower end of normal for his age—so that's huge progress," said Michelle.
Jackson will take part in the services at Mercy's Autism Clinic for one more year—the goal is to have him enrolled in a typical kindergarten classroom next fall.