Quinn Garren James Smith, who turned eleven years old in May 2011, is the youngest of my three sons. He was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three. He doesn’t speak spontaneously, but will reply when spoken to or peeved at his brothers for bugging him.
|We live in Kingston, Jamaica in the Caribbean. Jamaica’s autism resources for families are meager to say the least. The Jamaican populace isn’t really fully educated about autism. When they see a little kid like Quinn acting out, they say that he is spoiled or rude. It hurts. God helps us every minute of every day, but I am just flesh and it still hurts. But I am grateful and in love with God for giving us what we have because I have seen and helped other families living with autism whose lives I would never want to have.
I love God for many reasons. I am going to share one with you. When my son was diagnosed with autism, I experienced two things. First, I was unhappy for my son as I dream that my children will rule the world. Did this autism thing mean that he was never going to get a fair shot? The second was that when I discovered Quinn's autism, I believed in my heart and spirit that God wanted me to help other families affected by autism.
So that was it. He has set in me a passion to help other families like ours not feel as bad about having a child who struggles with autism. I really feel better when someone living with autism feels better through what I believe God has instructed me to do. In doing this work to help others face autism in Jamaica, I believe that God has led me to what I consider to be the perfect school for my child.
In Kingston, Quinn attends the Adonijah Group of Schools, which is approved, regulated and monitored by the Jamaican Ministry of Education, and caters to autists and other special needs children. The staff and teachers at Adonijah are excellent! I think this school is one of the best!
At Adonijah Special needs students of all types, including Quinn, are taught things like cooking and Spanish. Quinn is doing outstandingly well. He has been found to have genius abilities in mathematics. In fact, the school would like to have him enter a national math competition, as he has been found to be able to multiply three digit numbers by each other at a single glance, getting the answer right each time. And Quinn is in the “popular group” with his friends. This is a normal experience that I feel elated about.
Despite its limited resources, the model of teaching and interventions at Adonijah have enabled Quinn to be moved into a class with “normal” children. In this class, he is being groomed to take the entrance test for a “regular” high school.
At a recent meeting of similar institutions, the principal of Adonijah said that it was discovered that they are currently the only school for special needs children that has had students pass for Jamaica College High School in Jamaica, a traditional high school. I believe that if God had never dominated my intention with the mission He gave me - if I wasn't trying to help others and was only focused on our personal trauma - I would never have found this school and I believe that Quinn would not have benefitted from their approach there.
At Adonijah, an inclusionary program employed by the school’s administration has allowed Quinn to sit for standardized tests for neurotypical children, with the assistance of the school personnel and the permission of the Jamaican Ministry of Education. When Quinn takes the GSAT high school test (the Jamaican standard), I want him to pick my alma mater, Campion College High School, and his father's school, Kingston College, just because. When I learned about how severe Quinn’s autism was when he was three years old, I never thought that this normal and very wonderful part of a Jamaican child's life would ever be a part of his life. The mere fact that he will be able to sit for that exam and check off ‘Campion College’ and ‘Kingston College’ in the high school choice box - even if he doesn't pass for Campion or K.C. - is a victory of God.
When he was diagnosed with autism, I thought my son would never fall in love, never get married, and never have a best friend, the things that have made my life worth living. But so far, he has had best friends and someone has already “proposed” to him on Facebook.
He has accomplished many things as a young boy living with autism, but what do these accomplishments mean to someone who is autistic? What do they mean if you cannot share these highs, lows and “fabulosities” of life with the people who love you and who you love? I often wonder what he is feeling inside. Luckily, he is almost always smiling. Does that mean he is super happy? I don’t know. What does he want to tell us? Does he love us? When I tell Quinn that I love him, he says, “Mommy, I love you.” Does it have meaning for him?
Sometimes something bugs him and he gets that sad face and tears run out of his eyes. My heart feels like someone is wringing it out to hang on the clothes line because I don’t know what that feeling is and I cannot counsel him out of it. I can’t even help him understand it because due to autism he doesn’t get stuff in the typical way. So I just hug him tight, tight, tight and hope that through osmosis my empathy will seep into him.
But eleven years after his birth I can say in all fairness that it was because Quinn was born that our family founded the Autism and Disabilities Foundation in Jamaica. In its three year existence on the island, we have helped hundreds of autists like him.
I love all my children, no one more than the other. I can comfortably say that Quinn Garren James Smith is my son of whom I am proud. Because he was born autistic, many have been blessed. To have a child and have him accomplish so much already although he is just a pre-teen is pretty fabulous!
Founder, The Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation
The views expressed in this story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.