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Family experience journal


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Family experience journal

  1. 1. Family Experience JournalAnn Tormoehlen<br />Journey to Seymour, Indiana, and you would find a family much like any other in this rural town, the Brummetts. The Brummett family is made up of parents Chris and Shelie*, who are happily married, college educated, and in their thirties, and their two children: Max, who is almost five years old and Blythe, who just turned two. Chris is employed by a local factory doing specialized work that pays fairly well, and Shelie is a licensed clinical social worker who works part time providing therapy to troubled people. They own their own home and live a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. Both Chris and Shelie grew up in Seymour, and their parents still live in town as well as several siblings and other family members. They do not attend a church regularly, but do have a lot of support from family and friends. The Brummetts like to stay home and be with their kids. They are not a couple that ever leaves their kids to go out to dinner, or be with friends. There are not a lot of rules for the Brummett children, who are both very well behaved. They allowed Max to use a bottle until he was almost three years old, and do not have strict standards for bedtimes. <br />The Brummetts spent about two years trying to get pregnant, suffering a miscarriage, and rejoiced in Max’s eventual birth. They were so happy to have him that when Max was only six weeks old, they began trying (unsuccessfully) to have another baby. Max was a normal child for his first year. His motor skills developed as expected, and he was far ahead of the curve on height and weight. Max was never a great sleeper, though Shelie attributes this to her lack of structure in his bedtimes and sleeping patterns. Max babbled and attempted to speak early on, but this communication diminished rather than flourishing. At Max’s eighteen month checkup, his pediatrician voiced some concerns to Shelie regarding Max’s speech regression and some other behaviors. Shelie was very surprised by this suggestion, and immediately began taking Max to many different specialists to see if they could help confirm or deny the pediatrician’s suspicions that Max was autistic. These doctors were not able to classify Max as autistic this early on, but they did confirm that he had an auditory processing disorder at the least, and that many of his symptoms were indicative of autism. Once these were pointed out to Shelie and Chris, they too noticed some unusual things. For example, they thought that Max played normally with trucks just like any child his age, but a closer examination revealed that Max just liked to spin the wheels over and over again. He did not seem to notice other children, and he did not speak at all. <br />Shelie and Chris resigned themselves to the fact that Max had a spectrum disorder of some sort. This revelation was tough, and they threw themselves in to trying to intervene early to hopefully “cure” Max. They enrolled him in music classes, speech therapy, occupational therapy, animal therapy, began sign language, and even tried changing his diet, all with the hopes that one of these would be the key to unlock their silent child. These therapies were very expensive, and not covered by insurance, so even though Chris and Shelie have good jobs, they do experience some financial strain from the burdens of the therapy costs. Shelie decided to reduce her work hours to part time in order to take Max to his various activities, furthering the monetary strain. Shelie’s parents watch Max when Chris and Shelie are at work. They feel very fortunate to have this situation as they were very unsure about putting Max in a daycare. Shelie feels that Max responded somewhat to the therapy, but still does not speak and signs only minimally. By the time Max was two and a half, doctors were certain that a diagnosis of autism was appropriate for Max. <br />When Max turned three, he became eligible to attend public school in Seymour. Max’s team of teachers helped develop Max’s first IEP, a process that Shelie found very confusing and frustrating. Shelie felt that Max should get occupational therapy, because he seemed to respond well to this before. While this was included in his IEP, the school did not actually have an occupational therapist on staff, and Shelie had to fight to get someone, which was a complicated battle. Shelie is a strong advocate for Max, and does not shy away from making sure that he gets the services she thinks he deserves. Max goes to school four mornings a week, in a self contained preschool classroom. This has been a great relief to Shelie, as it frees her up to work in the mornings and gives Max interaction with other students and teachers. It also takes the burden of some of the therapy off of the Brummetts. <br />As a couple, Chris and Shelie had some difficulty with the decision to expand their family. Shelie was 35, and felt that if she was going to have another baby, it needed to happen soon. Chris was afraid that their next child would also have autism, and was very uncomfortable with taking the risk, which doctors told them was about 10%. Shelie was adamant about having more children, and so Chris finally agreed, though he was somewhat reserved about the idea. When Max was two and a half, Shelie gave birth to Blythe, a healthy little girl who just turned two. Thankfully, Blythe is far ahead in her speech development, showing no signs of having autism. Blythe is a huge encouragement to her parents and helps draw Max out of his shell with her outgoing personality. Before she was even two, Blythe knew over 100 signs, and was speaking in full sentences and signing simultaneously. Chris is now extremely thankful to have Blythe in their family, and sees the benefit to Max as well. However, they do struggle to watch Blythe pass Max in some developmental ways. <br />Recent struggles in the Brummett family have centered around Chris’s job. Chris was laid off last spring. In the meantime, Chris began doing handyman work to help income at home. Chris discovered that he really enjoyed this, and was able to make more money doing odd jobs than he was at his old job anyway. However, when Chris’s job became available again this winter, Chris felt obligated to go back based on the need to keep the families health insurance. If he were to work on his own, the policy that they would need for their family would be too much of a financial burden, as Max’s autism would be a pre-existing condition. It is unfortunate that Chris has to stay in a job that he doesn’t like based on his family’s health insurance conundrum, but this is one of the many sacrifices that they Brummetts have had to make for Max. <br />The stress on the Brummett family is abundant, but they seem to be handling it well. While it is frustrating for them that Max is not making more progress, they love Max so much and enjoy all of the time that they spend with him. Shelie is now suspicious that Max might have ADHD, based on the fact that he only sleeps seven or eight hours a night. The Brummetts are very sympathetic to their children, and indulge them when they wake up at night. Shelie often finds herself up at night for four hours, coloring, or playing with Max. Shelie estimates that she has not had a full night of sleep since Max was born. Unfortunately, Blythe seems to be picking up some of Max’s sleep habits, so even if Max does get a full night of sleep, she will be up. Shelie and Chris speak about this matter-of-factly, though it must be a great strain on them to always be so tired. <br />I do not yet know how these stresses are affecting the Brummett’s marriage. They seem fairly happy, but I think that they are very controlled people who would not let me know if all was not well. I’m not sure that I will be able to ever know these sorts of details. Additionally, Max is uncomfortable around strangers, and so it is hard for me to spend much time with him where he acts normally. I don’t know if I will spend enough time with Max for him to ever be comfortable with me. Max’s teacher went on maternity leave four months ago, and he still has not adjusted to his new teacher that he sees every day. <br />*All names used with the permission of the family<br />