Imagine the life of a family who has a child with autism. Days are filled with transporting to the multitude of therapies, restrictive diets, horrible gastrointestinal problems (a.k.a. poop smearing), running to school and social groups, in an attempt to help your child be more “typical” and “healthy”, like other kids. Imagine the amount of money spent, time dedicated, stress endured and marriage tested. Now imagine that world, but multiply that by six! This is the life of the Kirton family from Utah. They have six children, all of their children, falling on the autism spectrum.
Autism now affects 1 out of 150 children in the United States alone, according to CDC numbers. Many feel this is a gross underestimate. No one can agree on the cause of autism, other than the fact that there is some kind of environmental role. Autism Spectrum disorder includes diagnosis such as Aspergers syndrome and PDD-NOS, however those numbers are not even counted in the autism statistics produced by the CDC. So really, we have no clue how deep this disorder penetrates our population. We do know it’s big and it’s infiltrated every city, every community, every school, in my house and maybe yours.
John and Robin Kirton stumbled into the autism world, when one of their kids was struggling in school. Luckily, an astute teacher noticed symptoms that looked to her like aspergers syndrome, a mild form of autism which affects the child’s social abilities. This spurred the whirlwind of diagnosis’ to come for this family. Once one knows the symptoms of autism, it becomes fairly easy to spot this in other kids. This is what happened in the Kirton family; John and Robin began noticing similar symptoms in their younger children. Symptoms that originally just felt like compliance problems, turned into severe autistic symptoms.
About one and a half years ago, a social worker came to the Kirton home to check in on them, see how they are doing. “This happened to be a day, when I had just had enough”, says Robin. “I opened up to this social worker, and shared my feelings”. Unfortunately, this proved to be a grave mistake for Robin. The social worker forced Robin to go to the emergency room at the local hospital to speak with a crisis nurse. As the waiting room was crowded, Robin and John realized this was the first “alone time” they had in years. This would prove to be an important realization for the Kirtons.
Unfortunately the social worker took the frustrations of an exhausted and overwhelmed mother, to an extreme level which resulted in the eventual removal of the children from her home. With a community rallying around this family, a new social worker came in who actually helped this family get on their feet. The new social worker arranged for a family meeting and asked them to also invite friends. “Thirty people from our church and family came to support us”, shares Robin. This brought the social worker to tears and luckily, to the judge, who then sent the children back to their loving parents.
So what’s life like with six children on the spectrum? Well, probably just as one would think….biting, obsessions, running to and from school, mess making, overall…havoc. But, once thing was clear in my interview, these children have beauty, talents and a blanket of love and faith surrounding them. When asked what tips or advice she had for other parents of children with autism, she says “think of the positive things, not the negative, be ready and prepared and take time out for yourself.”
As for the cause, Robin sees a genetic predisposition and history of symptoms on both sides of the family. Since Robin herself has fibromyalgia type symptoms, I talked with her about the possibility of an underlying infectious issue. All but one child has received vaccinations and she feels this played a role in triggering the autistic symptoms. They have seen improvements with detoxifying clay baths but haven’t done much biomedical treatments due to the cost factor. On the school side, they have seen great things by mainstreaming some of her kids in with typical children.
The Kirton household was hit with autism six times. But autism is just a diagnostic label; it’s really about the story of a family. Their story is of six beautiful children, their strengths, their talents and their quirks. It is a story about parents with super-human internal strength who with their challenges, strive to help other parents by “paying it forward”. John and Robin are now giving back to other families; they are starting a foundation to help families with funding things that are needed for their children. Autism Bites is named for two reasons, says John, “first, two of our kids are biters, and the second reason…well that’s obvious”. Please visit their website and help support them, go to: www.autismbites.com