This blog was written by Tanyika Butler, a school counselor who teaches other counselors and education professionals about autism. Read her touching story below and consider donating to her Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser page. Find a walk near you here!
My name is Tanyika Butler. I work as a Professional School Counselor in Cobb County. I was a science teacher for 9 years. Then for one year I was a stay at home mom with my two children.
My son is 14 months older than Kendall. His name is Julian. Currently he is 14 and Kendall is 13. The year I returned to work, my daughter Kendall starting showing signs of autism. She was 14 months. At that time we didn't know it was autism, we thought she had a hearing problem.
Our autism journey began at 14 months with the ENT doctor. From the one appointment, we were on to the next appointment. We were given a diagnosis by 18 months.
Our autism journey has included daycare centers asking us not to send Kendall back, but that Julian could stay.
It was a hard decision as parents to separate our two small children. But we had to meet each of their needs. It meant sending them to two different daycare centers.
The removal from daycare centers started the journey of educating people about autism. I purchased business cards to help explain Kendall's behavior in public.
I purchased a button for Kendall to wear that read, "Please have patience, I have autism."
Kendall and her brother Julian were in separate educational settings until Kendall started kindergarten.
We met with the school before the first day and provided them with "Getting to Know Kendall" booklets. We gave them to everyone, from the principal to the after school worker. We wanted to educate everyone about autism. (You can find Autism Speaks' School Community Tool Kit to assist members of your child's school community in understanding autism and your child's special needs.)
Kendall is different but she is not less. We needed to educate them because Kendall was not verbal, other than a few words. We explained her word phrases, her likes, dislikes and what made her smile. We have continued the tradition of the "Getting to Know Kendall" booklet into middle school.
I feel the booklets and the openness we have with other people about our autism journey has benefited and educated many people. I have coworkers tell me they have family members they feel are showing signs of autism, and they ask me how can they help.
This past year, Georgia School Counselors Association chose Kendall's Krusade as their Service Project. I was able to share our autism journey with counselors from across the state. I presented two sessions on Bridging the Gap between Counselors and Autism. Feedback has been very positive. The counselors left with tools to help the families in their schools and were given information on how to include themselves in the conversation about students with autism. I have since been able to present to counselors in Cobb County at a conference hosted by Cobb School Counselors Association.
I feel people are more educated than 10 years ago. They have more patience. However, we still have a ways to go with how to educate children on the autism spectrum. Our children learn differently, yet are tested the same as all other children.
I really wish people would just be open to children who are different. We all have quirks. I actually think my daughter is funny. She doesn't try to be funny, it is just her personality. She is just a happy child who wants to help others. Kendall doesn't understand that she is autistic.
She knows that we walk each year for her....she actually refers to the walk as a promenade.
Kendall draws people together from all backgrounds. We once had a bus driver for two years straight. Then they changed her route, and the driver no longer was our bus driver. The bus driver called, upset because Kendall was no longer on her route. Then she showed up on Christmas with a gift for Kendall!
Kendall is verbal. She has found her voice and words. She tends to speak using only nouns. However, she will add the verbs if you correct her. She loves to draw pictures. She carries a clear folder with her pictures everywhere. She is a girlie girl but can rough as a boy. She is a Special Olympics athlete. Kendall has competed in bowling, track, gymnastics and currently soccer. We recently realized she could play basketball at the clinic hosted by Autism Speaks and the Hawks.
I dream of Kendall having a job where her gifts are utilized. I also want her to be able to live with assistance from a house mom with others with special needs. I want her to maintain a sense of independence.
The greatest challenge in the autism community is providing adequate services for all children regardless of the socio-economics of the family. We were able to get services for Kendall through Babies Can't Wait.... great services! We were able to provide private speech therapy for years. I wish all families could do the same.
I worry about Kendall aging out of school... what will happen next is my concern.
I am happily married to my college sweetheart. We have been married for almost 17 years, together for over 20. We really work together to give both children equal attention. It can be hard sometimes because 5 years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We make it work.
You can donate to Kendall's Krusade here.