Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Amy Thompson is a single mom. She has Olivia, a lively four-year old, and Olivia's older brother, six-year old Kollin. Kollin has just been diagnosed with autism.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Over the next three days, we're going to hear about autism through Amy and Kollin's story. Producer Dan Collison spent time with the family as everyone there struggles with diagnosis and the treatment. Here's the first report of the Autism Chronicles.

Ms. AMY THOMPSON (Single Mother, Niles, Michigan): Come on. Let's go inside.

Mr. KOLLIN THOMPSON (Autistic Child, Niles, Michigan): Where's my bag?

Ms. A. THOMPSON: It's ten minutes to six, and we just got home.

Kollin, wait.

I worked with special-needs kids for a long time, since I was 15. I was an assistant teacher. I worked with autistic children. I worked with children with Down syndrome. However, I was able to shut it off at three o'clock, 3:30, and go home and not have to deal with that. Well, now I have to figure out how to deal with that on a 24-hour basis.

Hey, Kollin. Do you think you should check on your rabbit?

Mr. THOMPSON: OK.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Get his dish out. You need to remember your steps.

It takes a lot of effort to get him to accomplish a task some days.

Mr. THOMPSON: OK. All done.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: What else does he need?

Today he's about in the middle.

Does he have any more celery or vegetables in there?

He's mostly paying attention, and mostly doing what he should be doing, you know, but there's still that little edge of, OK, any second now he might be gone over the hill somewhere, like he's got another realm in his head or something that he's visiting for the minute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Or for ten minutes, or two hours.

Mr. THOMPSON: Giddiyup.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: OK. Can you check your backpack? See what's in there and bring it to me.

Usually Kollin doesn't have any homework, but you know, I still, like, sit down together to look through the backpack, see what he did.

What did you learn about today? What is this?

Mr. THOMPSON: I don't know.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: What's that word?

Ms. OLIVIA THOMPSON: A sock.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Olivia, sh. He's in the special education class at Howard Elementary.

Mr. THOMPSON: Tongues.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Animal tongues.

Kollin was approximately five and half at the time that he had his diagnosis from the school.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Can you read it to me while I'm starting dinner?

Mr. THOMPSON: I don't know...

Ms. A. THOMPSON: There were a lot of different testing, and they determined that that was where Kollin was at, was on the mild end of the autistic spectrum.

Mr. THOMPSON: I don't know how to read this, mom.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: So, take your time.

Mr. THOMPSON: It's hard.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: It wasn't until Kollin started school. There was a lot of things that - I didn't understand, the doctor was not explaining thoroughly. There were things that - I didn't understand what he was asking of me. I filled out all the paperwork and it was just a long, drawn-out process. And I was frustrated, I didn't know what to do, and I never got a complete diagnosis from him.

(Soundbite of pages turning)

Ms. A. THOMPSON: He's constantly looking at books. And this book in particular is my journal book. And there's nothing written in it. And he's been sitting there for, what, close to five minutes, flipping through the same book. And there's nothing for him to read or look at in there particularly interesting to a kid. So, those are the things that make me look at him and go, OK, there might be an autistic trait, there might be something to add to the pile of things that I've already picked up on him. It hurts to not have that connection with him. A lot of times, when he's really far into it, I have to do a lot of things for him, otherwise he, you know, he wouldn't brush his teeth, he wouldn't eat dinner half the time, you know, if I didn't try and pull him out of that.

You want some music?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Mm-hm.

I turn the radio up and we dance and play around, you know, until I get him to giggle. And then I can kind of get him out of his shell, so to speak.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of clinking silverware)

Ms. A. THOMPSON: There you go. Hold your brother's hand. Whose turn is it? Quick, quick.

Ms. O. THOMPSON: Mine!

Ms. A. THOMPSON: All right. We'll let Olivia...

Ms. O. THOMPSON: God is good. God is great. Thank you for the food we eat. Amen.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Amen.

It's been quite an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Ms. O. THOMPSON: No, I want to...

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Hey, hey, hey. You know I don't tolerate any monkey business at the dinner table, none whatsoever.

I've been frustrated to the max. You know, I don't have that extra person to lean on, to say, OK, I just can't do this today. Can you please deal with him?

Kollin. One, two...

Mr. THOMPSON: OK, OK, OK.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: I don't have that capacity. It's me all the way.

Ms. O. THOMPSON: (Unintelligible).

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Just one moment.

There's been a lot of times where I've had to stop and count to ten and do whatever necessary to gather myself back together, because I know that Kollin and Olivia depend on me to take care of them every day in every aspect. So, I just kind of have to keep it together and keep trudging along.

Kollin, did you check what you're supposed to do?

Mr. THOMPSON: I'm playing my guitar.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: What's the name of your song?

Mr. THOMPSON: I forgot.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Do you want Mama to sing some song?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: And then you can play to Mama's singing?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: You ready?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of throat clearing)

(Soundbite of song "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby")

Ms. A. THOMPSON: (Singing) She was just 16 and all alone, when I came to be. And we grew up together, my mama child and me...

I'm surprised at his capacity to love. He knows when I'm having a difficult time. He'll come put his arms around me and he'll say, Mama, I love you. Or he'll say, who's my best mom? Because I always tell him, who's my best boy? And he always tells me, who's my best mom? I've never seen that side of autism. I've never seen that capacity to love somebody fully.

(Singing) And she'd calm my fears, Release the tears, With a rock 'n' roll lullaby.

Say your prayers.

Ms. O. THOMPSON and Mr. THOMPSON: (Together) Dear Jesus, keep me safe at night, help me have some (unintelligible), and keep my (unintelligible) safe. In Je...

Ms. A. THOMPSON: In Jesus' name, amen.

Mr. THOMPSON: Amen. The end.

Ms. A. THOMPSON: Good night. All right, let go of my hand.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Next up on the show, a conversation with a doctor about how parents can detect autism early, even if their pediatrician isn't ready to.

BRAND: And tomorrow, we'll hear about how Amy struggles to find services for Kollin. The Autism Chronicles is produced by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister for Long Haul Productions, in association with Chicago Public Radio.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.