Overcoming the Challenges of Autism
According to the Center of Disease Control, autism affects every 1 in 68 children in America; but for one child and family in Lawrence County, the condition did not deter a life worth living to fulfillment.
Hunter Allen of Kitts Hill was born on July 6, 2011 to Andrew and Marissa Allen. From birth, his parents began to encounter challenges in Hunter’s development as a newborn. He had experienced trouble sleeping and as well as feeding issues, even to the point that Hunter had to be fed from a small medicine bottle.
At 9 months old, Hunter still experienced difficulty sitting up without support. He then did not begin crawling until 10 and a half months old and did not learn to walk until he was over 14 months old.
Andrew and Marrissa decided to seek opinions from health professionals on some of the issues they had noticed in Hunter as he began to grow older, such as avoiding eye contact, speaking few words, and having trouble with crowds. At 3 years and 8 months old, Hunter was diagnosed with autism by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Autism is a condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts, as well as sensory issues associated with touching and receptive behaviors. According to the Autism Science Foundation, in the 1980s autism prevalence was reported as 1 in 10,000. In the nineties, prevalence was 1 in 2500 and later 1 in 1000. Today the condition has increased to affecting 1 in 68 children.
“Our reaction to finding out Hunter had autism was initially shocking,” says Marissa Allen. “But then we felt relief because we finally had some answers.”
Shortly following his diagnosis, Hunter began speech and occupational therapy to treat the symptoms of autism. In 2015, Hunter was enrolled in the preschool programs under Lawrence County Developmental Disabilities in South Point, which specializes in providing services and support for developmental disabilities, including autism.
Annette Payne was Hunter’s preschool instructor at the Early Childhood Center and noticed his difficulties with social interaction, tending to tasks and following directions.
“He had to learn to transition from his parent’s surroundings to the unfamiliar setting of school,” says Payne. “He also had to learn the expectations of the classroom rules and routines. At first this was difficult for Hunter and he needed a lot of individualized assistance.”
Over time though, Hunter began to develop his social and learning skills, eventually becoming a standout in his classroom with his progress. “As time passed, Hunter's confidence increased and he showed pride in being able to complete his work, participate in the daily routine and interact with others. By the time he left preschool Hunter had gained a lot of new skills that would help him be successful in kindergarten,” says Payne.
On May 17, 2017, Hunter graduated form the ECC’s preschool program.
Today, Hunter enjoys watching Youtube videos, camping with family, and riding go carts with his brother, Holden. He has gone on to kindergarten at Dawson Bryant Elementary, where he’s accompanied by his personal aide, Barb Moore at all times. Marissa attributes Hunters progress in his socialization and learning to the services he received at such an early age following his diagnosis.
“Hunter is still doing therapy and seems to be responding well. I can say none of this would have been possible without Annette Payne. She truly has a special place in her heart for kids with special needs and also the classroom aide, Donna Childers - she was a huge help too.”