Town Crier News Staff
Marsha Eldridge of Lake City trusted her strong maternal instinct concerning her eight-year-old son Braden, and did not rest until she came up with answers to his development difficulties--a psychological disorder called Asperger Syndrom.
Braden got off to a rough start, being born at 28 weeks and weighing only three pounds. He had whooping cough at 7 months, he went on to spend four months in Little Rock on a ventilator, and stopped breathing twice.
His mother just knew that something was not right with Braden, but she could not determine just what was wrong. His behavior patterns were different from her other children, his communication skills did not seem to be progressing at the usual rate, his motor skills were slow to develop.
"Braden was slow to walk and slow to develop every-day skills that come so naturally for small children," Mrs. Eldridge said. "He was O.K. in kindergarten and first grade, but he began to stumble with work in the second grade. He began to have meltdowns and cry in class, as he grew frustrated.
"I talked to everyone I knew to talk to about his difficulties and took him doctors whenever a new problem came up. No one could come up with just what was wrong with him, or how to help him."
He was having silent seizures, focal seizures. Finally his doctor ran an EEG and a MRI on him and found a mass on the frontal lobe of his brain. It was a hetrotopica that had just grown in the wrong place.
"Last year I took him to see Dr. Karen Lee, a child psychologist in Jonesboro," Mrs. Eldridge said. "She told me there was no one certain test for Asperger, and it was hard to diagnose. Braden has a high I.Q. and is a great speller, yet he stumbles over things that seem commonplace to average children."
"It took nine months for Youth Development Specialist Stephen Bates to come up with the proper diagnosis. It was such a relief knowing where to start looking looking for help."
Dr. Lee said about one out of 100 cases of this particular spectrum disorder are ever correctly diagnosed. The children are often misdiagnosed as having ADHT. He has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and gets consumed by things he is interested in.
Asperger's Syndrome is a psychological disorder that begins in early life and is an enduring disorder. It is characterized by distinctive features and patterns of behavior. Children have difficulties in the areas of social relationships, in the social use and understanding of communication and often have strong interest in particular topics or obsessions.
"Braden is a literal thinker," his mother said. "If someone told him it was raining cats and dogs outside, he would go out and look for cats and dogs. He has a concrete interpretation of things. This makes him very vulnerable, as he is so trusting of everyone."
"He can't tile his shoes, or ride a bike. He has no concept of time.
"It is hard for us to go to public places, such as ball games, Wal-Mart and the Mall. I have printed out cards that I often pass out in crowds, telling people to please overlook Braden, as he has Asperger's Syndrome and has trouble communicating and acting appropriately at times."
Braden attended Autism Camp at Valley View Elementary for three weeks last year. This proved to be a very positive experience. The campers went on field trips and got to enjoy the company of other students who struggle with similar difficulties. Strong bonds were formed between the students and their parents.
The Autism Camp will continue again this year. April is National Autism Month and special events are also being planned at Campbell Park in Jonesboro.
"Braden receives excellent care at Riverside West Elementary," Mrs. Eldridge said. "His home room teacher is Tammy Davis, his resource teacher is Renea Brickle, and the elementary principal is LeAnn Harrell. There are 23 kids in Braden's homeroom. The teachers amaze me at the patience they have with the students. They manage to have a very structured day of learning activities, and the students are comfortable with transitions. There is a lot of one on one teaching, and a spirit of cooperation is strong among the staff.
"Asperger support groups are so helpful also, Parents share successes and failures in dealing with children with autism. It is so helpful just talking to someone who understands what parents go through day to day. I am finding autism networks on line, with chat rooms and websites for questions and answers. Most of all it is just wonderful knowing that someone out there understands what you are going through."
Marsha is currently attending nursing college at Arkansas Northeast College, in Blytheville, and will graduate in May.
"I want to devote more time to starting an autism support group in this area and developing an autism network," she said. "The more I learn about Aspergers the more I desire to share with others.
"I try not to worry so much about Braden's future, but rather just try to make today as good as possible. Braden will always be in special education, and he doesn't mind. He finds it to be a rewarding and satisfying experience, filled with teachers who encourage and understand him. There is so much progress being made with autism research today, who knows what will be available when Braden gets out of school. He is working through seven different disorders and shows progress in all of them.
"Braden's grandmother keeps telling him to follow his dreams. She tells him he can be whatever he wants to be, and not to let disabilities hold him back. Right now he wants to be a policeman. Lake City Policeman Steve Chamness takes time to talk to Braden and encourages him about becoming a policeman someday.
"My husband Jeff and I have two special friends, Stephen and Melissa Sanders, who just love Braden and they understand him. They often have him over at their house and never seem to tire of hearing him tell about his new interests and what he has learned this week."
"I have a much more peaceful spirit now about Braden and his limitations," she said. "I used to cry a lot, not understanding what was happening, and how I could help. I found myself always on the defensive, and over sensitive about everything. The more I learn about Aspergers, the more comfortable I am with what Braden is going through. It takes understanding from the entire family, friends and school staff to work through the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Braden's brothers Bryce, 18, and Nathan, 17, have been very understanding, as well as his sister DeShayla, 14. We manage to work through challenges together as a family. We laugh at the things we can and work through the things we can't. We are in this for the long haul. Braden has blessed our lives and we are better people for what we have gone through as a family. "