World Autism Awareness Day and Conlon

April 2, 2020

Autism Awareness Day | St. Augustin Catholic School

World Autism Awareness Day and Conlon

 Written by guest author, Mrs. Molly Topf


April is Autism Awareness Month. Today, April 2nd is World Autism Day. Autism is a developmental neurobiological difference in brain function. People with autism have issues developing communication and social skills due to this difference. Since the beginning of Kindergarten at St. Augustin, it was clear that our son Conlon struggled with social interaction, anxiety, gross motor challenges, and other learning issues. Conlon’s diagnosis of Inattentive ADHD along with dyslexia in the Spring of his Kindergarten year gave us some answers, but we knew there was more going on as he still struggled. Finally, in the Fall of October 2018, Conlon was diagnosed with high functioning autism, Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (before 2013 this was classified as Asperger’s Syndrome). Since then we have learned much about autism, reading autism blogs and about families impacted by autism. We’ve learned that high functioning autism comes with its own challenges and the term “high-functioning” is often misleading. It is a hidden disability. It doesn’t exhibit itself easily to those that aren’t already aware of an individual’s diagnosis. The ticks, fears, social and sensory issues, along with mild communication struggles are often easy to overlook if a child is labeled high functioning. Their delay in speech and language may not be as obvious. Many people only see the current state of a child and have no idea what progress they have made in the past. Conlon’s struggles could be ignored because they are not obvious. Thankfully we are fortunate to have the incredible support of the St. Augustin Catholic School community, administration, teachers, and families as we’ve walked through this journey.

We often feel like we are in the middle of both worlds. One side being the autism world, the other being the neurotypical world. Playdates, birthday parties, and social situations you find neurotypical peers enjoying are challenging at best for Conlon. This at times has made Conlon feel lonely and isolated, despite everyone’s best efforts. When Conlon was diagnosed with ASD his 2nd-grade teacher worked with us to make several accommodations that helped facilitate his learning and be more comfortable in the classroom. His classmates were patient and helped him. On World Autism Day last year, Conlon and our family answered questions and talked with his 2nd-grade class about autism. We shared some positive things about people with autism such as they rarely lie or judge; are passionate about things, people and ideas in their lives; and have terrific memories. It was wonderful to help bridge the understanding between Conlon's world and his classmates. In addition, the school guidance counselor put together a small group of students to help Conlon work on communication and friendship skills. And, he works with a Speech Therapist at St. Augustin to improve the practical aspects of his speech and language communication. While Conlon’s diagnosis effects the speed of how he processes information, we are blessed that he is bright and curious about learning, especially when it comes to science and social studies. We love his well-developed vocabulary, creativity, kind spirit, and drive to learn and know that St. Augustin School has been a huge part of this.

With the accommodations, structure, and support Conlon has received over the past several years from St. Augustin, he is having his best year ever in 3rd grade. Mrs. Brown’s kindness, patience, class structure, and encouragement have helped Conlon thrive with growth in his confidence, independence, and educational competence. We are grateful for the kindness of our St. Augustin Catholic School Community in creating a more inclusive, understanding and accepting world for people with autism, and for our Conlon.