For some parents, communicating with their children can be difficult, but with a child suffering from autism it can become an everyday battle.
“He had every characteristic of autism; he wasn’t verbal, he would get fits, had poor eye contact,” Sara Hilfiker said.
A mother of six, Hilfiker knows all too well how difficult it can be to bring a child out of their shell, having worked aggressively to help her 7-year-old son, Steven, to open up after being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is comprised of a range of neurological disorders that affect the brain and the normal development of a child. Social setbacks are a main characteristic associated with autism.
“We did one-on-one tutoring, four to five days a week for three hours to help,” Hilfiker said.
Steven also participated in local Little League baseball teams and activities with his brothers.
“We really just wanted to include him in on everything,” she said.
A tool Hilfiker used to help Steven socialize better was education.
“Dr. Lynn Koegel’s book was one of the first books I read to better understand,” Hilfiker said.
Koegel and husband, Robert, have written multiple educational books about autism, including “Teaching children with Autism” and “Overcoming Autism.”
They sat down Tuesday with local Valley parents at Sunflower Elementary School to share strategies devised while treating many children in their autism centers.
Having attended the presentation, El Centro parent Dana Sharpe has worked hard to build up son Austin’s communication skills after he was diagnosed 13 years ago with high-functioning autism.
“We tried to do what felt natural to us. We treated him like everyone else,” Sharpe said.
Now a sophomore at Southwest High School, Austin has been able to socialize with his peers.
“He’s OK by himself, but now he’s willing to go places if he’s invited …,” Sharpe said.
Having watched him mature, Dana said she believes his social skills have improved because of his brothers and his peers.
“His younger brother encouraged him to play with him and so has his school friends,” she said.
Although each case of autism differs among children, local parents like Sharpe and Hilfiker are continuing their efforts in assisting their children to overcome the social barrier created by autism.