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By

Rhonda
Brunett

I grew up in a not so typical household. I’m one of three


children and the oldest of my siblings. I have a brother,
Eddie, and a sister, Susie. Susie was born with a rare form
of epilepsy, cerebral palsy and brain damage. My sister
was in and out of hospitals as a toddler. My mom was told
Susie would be a vegetable and should be institutionalized.

S
ince my mom couldn’t foresee friends of friends, to do volunteer therapy. her through the box. My mother also had
this way of life for my sister, she This therapy was done four times a day, to place a plastic bag on Susie’s mouth and
found a doctor, Dr. Paul Dunn, totaling approximately 15 hours a day for nose, in which she breathed in her own car-
who followed the program of Dolemann eight years. We had a patterning table which bon monoxide. This would make the blood
& Delacoto from the Institute for Achieve- consisted of three people: One person would rush through her brain faster. She received
ments of Human Potential in Philadelphia. turn her head from side to side; the other warm, salt water rubs for circulation on her
This therapy trained the unused parts of the two moved Susie’s arms and legs in unison. palsy arm daily. Flashcards were done over
brain. My mother then went door to door, The therapy also included a crawl box in and over again to help her develop speech.
asking her neighbors and friends, and the which my mother and volunteers crawled Tactile exercises, such as picking up pennies

FALL 2006 The Autism Perspective 27


Rick, Jordan and Rhonda Brunett and rice, helped with her fingers and arms. McDonald’s hamburgers, pop and pizza. And
And finally to go to sleep at night, mother he had to be naked from the waist down.
had to position her in different ways. It was also noticeable that tags on clothes
As a sibling of a child with a disability, bothered him.
I was very confused and disturbed by my One day I went to take Jordan to the
mother’s constant attention to my sister. My grocery store; he went into a massive melt-
brother and I both grew to resent the constant down and my mom yelled at me because I
chaos in our household. When I matured and couldn’t get him in the car to take him to the
finally fell in love with and married my hus- store. She yelled: “What’s’ wrong with you?
band, Rick, I looked forward to starting our I took three kids to the store and you can’t
own family. On October 6, 1992, we were even take one!” I thought I was a terrible
both blessed with our miracle - a beautiful mother and a failure. At this point, I was
baby boy, who was given the name Jordan a complete and total wreck. Luckily I had
Michael Brunett. neighborhood friends that were wonderful.
Jordan’s life started and resembled the Together we created an environment for our
life of any normal, neurotypical child up until children willed with love and acceptance. We
the age of two. Around the time he received cherished each and every child. On this par-
his measles-mumps-rubella shots, he en- ticular day, my neighbor, Carla, supported
tered into his own world. Suddenly he went me while I had a meltdown. She suggested a
from speaking twenty words to only two. preschool screening.
He played alone and had limited interaction The woman who gave the assessment
Newborn and new mom
with his peers. He paced back and forth and told me to come back in six months because
began to spin constantly. Jordan was just shy three weeks for meeting
It appeared that he may be deaf. There the age cut-off (three years of age) to be
were times when he wouldn’t even give eye accepted into a special education preschool
contact, and that made me question if he program. I begged, pleaded and cried. I
could even hear me. I was confused by his think she felt sorry for me and she proceed-
extreme abilities and behaviors. He memo- ed with the assessment.
rized the presidents of the United States, The assessment showed developmental
could read a book cover to cover, and could delays. He was assessed at eighteen months,
even say his ABCs out of order. Yet, he would yet was three years old. He then entered a
The Brunett family line up his toys and scan them. There was special education preschool program which
no conversation or pragmatic speech. He consisted of a special education teacher, a
couldn’t say “Mommie, I want a cookie.” speech teacher, an occupational therapist,
He would pull, point and use high-pitched and an aide. Everything taught at school was
screams to communicate. Things were not followed through at home. The speech teach-
sitting well with me. I couldn’t control my er mentioned that she thought Jordan might
own son. He made no eye contact; he would have PDD. I asked the teacher, Jill, “What
scream and have meltdowns. He would not is PDD?” Jill explained that it fell under the
follow directions. There were sensory issues. umbrella of autism. I went numb. All I could
He became overstimulated at parties and think of and knew about was Rainman.
would want to leave. He would not walk Rick appeared unaffected when we dis-
barefoot on the grass, as if it hurt his feet. cussed it that evening. I, on the other hand,
I couldn’t brush his hair…thank goodness had this sickening feeling in the pit of my
for mullets! Being a hairdresser, I would cut stomach: “Why would God do this to me
his hair in his sleep but couldn’t cut the back. again? I already lived this, how could God
Iron muscles He craved only certain foods - french fries, be so cruel?” I knew I was in a sink or swim

28 The Autism Perspective www.TheAutismPerspective.org


A s a child, I had trouble staying on task and I also had some processing issues in school. It
was because of this that I was driven to teach my toddler son, Jordan, any tools that would
help him in his learning. I used primary methods my mother had used with my special needs sister,
Susie. I had seen how well Susie had responded and I set off to teach my son the basics.
When I first started working with Jordan, I truthfully had no idea he was autistic. My initial
thoughts were to teach him the ABCs, 1-2-3s, colors and shapes. Mastering these skills would put
him ahead of the game once he started preschool, I thought. I worked with Jordan after breakfast,
lunch, dinner, and snack time. With repetition, Jordan caught on quickly, seemed to stay focused, and seemed to be enjoying it. Soon
it became part of our routine. In time he mastered these skills.
My next thoughts were to teach him how to spell. I went to my favorite store (the teacher’s store) and bought flashcards that
taught nouns and verbs. I followed the same routine and quizzed Jordan after meals and snack time. We did the flashcards in a se-
quential order and, when he was able to master the words, I started to put the words together: the boy, the girl, the dog. Then I would
add on to that: The dog barks; The boy plays. We continued to build as he mastered his lessons: The boy plays on the swing. While
using flashcards and blocks for visual aid, I added subjects like math: 1 + 1 = 2; 2 + 2 = 4. This was also built upon.
I had heard that the brains of children, from newborns up to the age of five years old, are like little sponges. So I kept filling him
with information; if he rejected a subject, I’d put it aside and try another way or another subject. We started off playing basic games
like matching. I’d be consistent until that was mastered, and then I would look for a higher level game to try. For example, we would
sing and dance Simon Says, so he learned to follow directions through observation and listening. We would play Duck, Duck Goose,
and Ring around the Rosy. To make it more interesting and fun, we would get the neighborhood friends to play along.
Even baking had a bigger purpose than the reward of eating cookies. For instance, I would bake cookies and decorate them with different
sprinkles. Jordan would frost the first cookie using the color blue. I would then instruct him to frost the cookies using the other colors, red and
yellow for instance, to help him follow directions, and then I would reward him by allowing him to eat the cookies. Believe me this wasn’t always
easy and there were meltdowns. I would give him space and try again later. Consistency and perseverance were the keys.
On fieldtrips to the farms, I’d start again with the basics: “There’s a cow Jordan, what does a cow say?” “Moo” “What does a cow
make?” “You drink milk and you put milk in your cereal.” “Can you say milk?” “Can you say cereal?” Every moment would turn into
a teaching experience that was simultaneously interesting and fun. All along I was really only doing what I thought all other parents
were doing with their own children.
I noticed little “cute things” Jordan began doing. Like spinning or doing this “curly shuffle dance” which consisted of him repeating a word,
then taking two steps back, stomping his feet in rhythm, and returning two steps forward for his next word. I also noticed that he was scanning
toys past his eyes. These behaviors seemed to be nothing more than little cute “quirks.” In hindsight, however, all the pieces were there – he
was on the spectrum. Now that I am armed with more information, I believe I can make a difference with this puzzle we call autism.

situation. So I guess it was time to swim. If I compared to the nightmares of the past. My son’s obsession with sports and statistics
sank, I would take my child down with me. Jordan is now a gifted athlete. He is a great may one day make him a great professional
Now, looking back at my childhood, I bowler, and even made the All-Star Team in athlete, and, who knows, maybe his second
feel everything has come full circle. I actu- his rookie year of baseball. He loves sports career could be as a great sportscaster!
ally took the methods my mother used and and follows football, baseball, wrestling and So really what I’ve learned and would
applied them to my own child. I had seen basketball. He does obsess on sports, but like to pass on to others is what I found in
Susie go from a vegetable to a functioning socially, this is acceptable…he could be ob- the words of Calvin Coolidge:
adult. So I put no limits on my own child, sessing over fire hydrants or the Civil War. “Press on; nothing can take the place
persevered on a daily basis, and let him fly Jordan wants to go to Notre Dame and of persistence. Talent will not; the world is
without limits. Not every day was easy, and I believe he can. One day while watching full of unsuccessful people with talent. Ge-
a lot of times I would have to start over from Oprah, she recalled a story where she was nius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a
the beginning. But I treaded the waters. constantly being reprimanded for talking proverb. Education alone will not; the world
Today, Jordan is integrated into a in class. She took her obsession and made is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and
regular classroom setting. Today is nothing it her career. I’m following the same logic. determination alone are omnipotent.”

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