A look into what autism means for our family

Guest Blog Post by Brad Trahan, Parent and Board of Directors – Project Lifesaver

During the month of April, I have so many feelings that run through me.  April is not only Autism Awareness Month; April 24th is also my son Reece’s Birthday.  Reece was diagnosed with severe autism on January 23rd, 2003.  Reece will be 19 years old this coming April!  Below is our family; L-R Front: Joanie (my wife of 22 years this May), Reece.  L-R Back Payton (150, Brenden (20) and now serving in the United States Air Force, Spangdahlem Germany AFB and me.

Autism not only affects the individual, but it also affects the whole family – TRUST ME!  Autism controls; What you do, When you do it, How you do it, Why you do it and IF, IF you do it at all.  Families’ lives are simply controlled by autism.  Families have to have Plans A, B, C, and D when they prepare for whatever.  It’s intense 24/7/365!

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability our nation faces today.  The Autism Rate now is 1/59!  Boys are 4 times more common to be diagnosed with autism than girls. There is no known cause or cure for autism.

During the month of April, I think back on our lives with autism.  When Reece was first diagnosed, I left my Catholic Church.  I was mad, sad, and quite angry actually.  Lost, felt sorry for myself – all of that stuff.  But that same faith I left is the same faith that has held me together through this challenging diagnosis.  I think of all of those meltdowns, doing so much separately as a family so Reece could be cared for.  Our family of five has never had a vacation together.  Matter of fact, my wife and I have had a total of 19 vacation days in our 22-year of marriage.  What we do have though in our family which is the most important to us is this; we have great love and faith.  Early on, we said we were not going to feel sorry for ourselves and we were always going to keep our glass ½ full no matter how bad things got.  Our family started a non-profit from $0.00 and before I retired from that, we left it with $103,000 in the 11 years and we donated so much back to other programs, etc.  We were a part of six (6) legislative law changes and I’ve been a Board Member with PLS since 2009.  Amongst the many speaking engagements that I do, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that those speaking engagements and wanting to be part of a solution to autism has without a doubt, given me my “therapy” to cope through the day-to-day challenges with autism; Respite Care, Paperwork for the schools, county and state.  IEP meetings, Guardianship/Conservatorship and all the paperwork that goes with that.  Summer programs, hospital stays (No, when your child with severe autism needs dental work done, it’s a stay in the hospital under anesthesia).  Just because our kids have autism does not mean they are spared from having wisdom teeth out and they go through all the other stages that our sons and daughter’s go through.

Through all of the challenges, without ever saying a word, Reece has taught me SO much; to be patient, to listen, to love even more, to give back, to cope, to understand and to not judge anyone.  Autism has taught me to go outside my comfort zone from time to time.  While I will always pray that one day Reece will speak (non-verbal), and say, “I Love You Dad”, we hope he says that, but even if he does not, I feel his love.  My wife feels his love.  His big brother and younger sister feel his love.  We love his free spirit.  We love his innocence.  We care about him deeply.

I have not met a family that doesn’t want sympathy.  Rather, empathy is all.  If we all start to understand one another for whatever adversity we are going through, it makes life so much easier.

I am so blessed to be a part of Project Lifesaver.  To be able to be a part of an organized that helps bring “Loved Ones’ Home” is priceless.  All of the staff at PLS are simply as good as it gets – their passion for this cause runs high!

While none of us can control the society to which we are born into, we all can change the positive impact we have on it before we leave it.

April is Autism Awareness Month – I ask for only one thing of you – just one thing!  Please say a special prayer for all individuals and families that are affected by autism.  Please give them strength; spiritual, emotional, and physical.  Let them never give up hope!  Keep them safe!  Keep them strong!  Reece – I love you son and I am so proud of you!  Keep working hard on your end and your family; Mom, Brenden, Payton and I will continue to advocate and work hard for you son.  You’re an inspiration and I am so proud to call you my Son!