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LOVE

STORY LIZ GENEST SMITH PHOTOS BY GROSSNICKLE FAMILY

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arenting is hard. No one truly understands how hard until that squalling bundle of joy arrives and introduces you to a dizzying litany of challenges that test your patience, endurance and sanity. Swap out a typical child with a child with autism, and those parenting challenges jump exponentially. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the concept of autism, but just to review, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically struggle with social interactions, have delayed or unusual ways of communicating, and they may have repetitive or restricted behavior patterns. As the word spectrum implies, symptoms can be so severe that they interfere with daily life, they can be mild and cause few problems, or fall anywhere in between. The fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S., one in 54 children were diagnosed with autism in 2020. Studying definitions and statistics is a start, but to get a better understanding of what it’s like to parent a child on the spectrum, I spoke with three Northshore parents about some of the difficulties they face. Katrina Grossnickle of Hammond has an 11-year-old son, Evan, who’s very social and loves music. He takes piano lessons, but also plays by ear, and performs quite well – and he’s also right in the middle of the autistic spectrum. “Evan’s a happy kid 99% of the time,” she told me. “He wants to be around kids, but doesn’t know how to interact, and sometimes people don’t know how to react to him. He doesn’t understand personal space, and it’s difficult to understand his speech sometimes. A lot of people equate speech with intelligence. Evan may not always say a lot, but it doesn’t mean he’s not thinking.” Sherri Houin of Ponchatoula agrees that parents of kids with autism have to contend with a lot of misconceptions, even in this day and age. “Overall, things are getting better, but parents of typical kids think we don’t discipline our kids when they’re maybe reacting to sensory overload. People can still get ugly with the parents over an autistic child’s behavior.” Katrina credits Sherri, co-founder of the non-profit organization SOAR (Strengthening Outcomes With Autism Resources), with helping her overcome many obstacles. Much of Sherri’s knowledge comes from experience. When her son, Julian, who’s now 20, was diagnosed at three-and-a-

EDGE June | July 2021

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Profile for EDGE of the Lake

Edge of the Lake Magazine June | July 2021  

EDGE of the Lake gives a fresh edgy look at the parishes north of the lake and the unique people that make up our community. Expect the unex...

Edge of the Lake Magazine June | July 2021  

EDGE of the Lake gives a fresh edgy look at the parishes north of the lake and the unique people that make up our community. Expect the unex...

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