Abbi and Belle Mecham, twins with autism, have a different perspective of life and share that perspective with others.
By JEN ANDRUS
BLACKFOOT— Audrey Mecham had high expectations for her two beautiful twin girls born in August of 2001.
When the girls went into kindergarten they had notable struggles with their attention, transitions and language skills.
Mecham realized that there may be something different that they needed help with. After a long process of testing through first and second grades, Abbi and Belle Mecham were diagnosed with autism.
One in 88 children in the U.S. is affected by autism, Asperger's or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It was embarrassing at first." Mecham said of the diagnosis of her girls, "I didn't like the attention just because something was wrong with my child." Many parents struggle with the same feelings. "I had to alter my expectations." said Mecham. "It's like planning a trip to Italy, learning the Italian language. Mapping out the sites, planning the entire trip down to what places you will eat… and then getting on the airplane all packed and ready to go. When you get off the plane you are in Holland, not Italy." Mecham explained about her expectations. "It's not that it isn't beautiful… it is amazing, but you expected Italy and you have to adjust."
Abbi and Belle, now 11, have varying interests. Abbi loves to play the Nintendo, jump on the trampoline and dance around the house. Her favorite subject at school she said is, "Math" which came to a surprise to her mother. "Yeah, I like it now!" she said.
Belle loves reading, feathers and writes books about cats on her computer. She hopes to become an author. Both girls are innocent , trusting and pure. They avoid eye contact and tend to be in their own world and occasionally let others in.
The girls struggle with social skills and have "meltdowns". A simple trip to the grocery store can quickly turn into a fiasco.
"It could be the smells that day, the fluorescent lights, the noise… anything that causes a meltdown," Mecham said.
She parents the girls with love and a healthy dose of humor. "Anymore, I think go ahead and stare; it won't fix the autism. You have to get a thick skin." Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there can be great variation in the way it affects people. Each child on the spectrum possess unique abilities, symptoms and challenges. Many children also often share common core symptoms. These include:
• Impaired social interactions, such as reluctance to join group activities at school, not being aware of the needs of others, or the inability to understand humor.
•Impaired communication, such as delay in language development, unusual repetition of words and phrases spoken by others or on television, or major difficulty sustaining a conversation.
•Restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, and stereotyped mannerisms, such as clapping, finger- flicking, rocking, dipping and swaying, fascination with parts of an object or preoccupation with one narrow interest such as dates or numbers.
Early diagnosis of a child on the autism spectrum will help the child learn to grow and adjust to social situations. If you have questions about whether your child may have autism, please see your medical provider.
" Don't be afraid to change doctors if you don't feel they are a good fit for your family or child." said Mecham, "You have to be your child's advocate because no one else will. You have to stand up for them."