OAKLEAF – Nassau County resident Amy Green’s son, Plantation Oaks Elementary fourth-grader Austin Green, was diagnosed with autism as a baby, and he has been to therapy since he was 18 months …
OAKLEAF – Nassau County resident Amy Green’s son, Plantation Oaks Elementary fourth-grader Austin Green, was diagnosed with autism as a baby, and he has been to therapy since he was 18 months old.
Austin, now 9, who sometimes goes by his middle name Colt, is fundraising for the 11th annual HEAL Autism Walk at The Zoo on April 28 in Jacksonville.
The walk has grown from 800 participants in 2008 to 2,200 last year, event co-founder Leslie Weed said.
Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and the walk begins at 8:30 a.m.
The organization distributes a total of six iPads to the top-three schools who fundraise, according to a press release, and top fundraisers can designate grants between $250 and $1,000 to an organization or school that assists those with autism.
“The most wonderful thing about the HEAL Autism Walk at The Zoo, is seeing the miles of smiles, laughter and camaraderie,” Weed said. “It is a day for all to have fun in honor of the struggles these children and families face living with the daily challenges of autism.”
Austin has raised more than $4,500, exceeding his $500 goal.
“Anybody who knows Colt knows how sweet he is, they more than wanted to help with this,” Green said. “I was shocked by how much we got in so short a time, but I’m not that surprised either. He’s got a nice little group of people that love him.”
The fundraising groups are referred to as “Puzzle Packs,” named after a puzzle piece, the symbol of autism.
“Every child is different, and every puzzle is different,” Green said. “The question is which piece goes where, how do they fit together and how does it not work.”
Green said she chose Clay County Public Schools because of its Autism Support Environment program.
There is no magic pill to thwart autism. The Green’s story is one of persistence, patience, growth and lots of practice. She recalled his fierce temper tantrums. Green had to take a year off work. At Austin’s therapy, Green said her son would scream for an hour.
“[Then] we would be able to get 15 minutes of things done and responses. Then it became 30 [minutes]. Then it became 45 [minutes]. Then it became he wanted to go back and was happy,” Green said. “That was huge progress on its own and it took almost a year to get to that point.”
Green said she never wanted her son to be secluded from society and the two would practice the “inside voice,” and manners at an empty restaurant. The one-on-one training was vital, she added.
“Every day he got a little bit better,” Green said. “We just did that [in the restaurant] repeatedly all the time.”
A movie can significantly alter thought and perception. Green said that she couldn’t remember the name of the documentary about autism that changed how she handled and understood. People with autism and have problem expresses what they want. A subject on the documentary referred to the disorder as being, “Trapped in your own mind” and frustrated how no one understood them.
Green refers to that explanation as her “light bulb moment.” Then Green, who lives on a farm, started using similar concepts for training animals, such as consistency and structure, and her son started improving. Green said Austin has a set routine and chores taking care of the animals.
“As I soon as I understood my son, it was a complete 180 degrees,” Green said.
Despite some teacher turnover, the structure in the ASE programs at Argyle Elementary School and Plantation Oaks was important to Austin’s development. While Austin is in one general education, Green raised the possibility he could have all general education classes next year.
“When I tell [teachers] he used to throw chairs at teachers and bang his head on the floor and the wall, they say, ‘That’s just so hard to believe.’ He was a little terror, but as soon as I understood him, he changed,” she said.