LAURINBURG — For many people autism is just something they hear about during the month of April, but for Scotland County moms Essie Davis and Amy Galbreath, the disorder is more omnipresence.
The two women lives are different in many ways — age, number of children, occupation — but their common bond is that each is raising a son with autism.
Davis’ son Jarell is 28 and Galbreath’s son, Jamie is three. Both women sat down recently for a joint interview with The Laurinburg Exchange to highlight April as Autism Awareness Month.
According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of 42 boys and one out of 189 Girls have autism. In Scotland County, the number of students diagnosed with autism has tripled in 10 years going from 22 reported cases for 2004-2005 school year to 67 reported cases for the 2014-2015 school year.
Autism is typically defined as a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and that causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people.
Davis, who also has a 22-year-old grandson with autism, had worked with the Autism Society of North Carolina in Laurinburg for 17 years.
“My son has what I say is classic autism, because he is lower functioning. He’s non-verbal and he still does not talk,” Davis said. “My grandson is totally different. He’s some high functioning and he does have communication. So I’ve seen autism in many ways.”
Davis said the initial diagnosis was difficult.
“I cried in the office with the psychologist,” she said. “We took a moment because I was in tears. I didn’t understand when he said autism, but he explained it to us. My husband had that pitiful look on his face.”
Her husband designed a schedule for her other children detailing what activities they were to do with Jarell. She said her other children had questions and concerns about what others would have to say.
Galbreath said when she noticed that her child was not talking, she was referred to Children’s Developmental Services Agency. She has two daughters and so for a short time, she thought maybe things were different because he was a male.
“By him being a boy I thought maybe he will talk a little later, I didn’t see anything wrong,” said Galbreath.
When she visited a speech therapist, she thought that would solve the issue.
“The therapist told me, he looks like he might be autistic,” said Galbreath. “I had it in the back of my mind, but when the doctor said it, I cried. But I wasn’t surprised because the therapist had explained it to me what it was. She helped me accept it.”
Jamie is still non-verbal but he makes sounds, so Galbreath is optimistic that he will talk.
“I don’t think my 6-year-old understands what’s going on, because she will ask Ma why Jamie don’t say stuff. I tell her Jamie can’t talk right now,” Galbreath said. “But my 13-year old, I think she accepts that he is going to be different and she’s overprotective.”
But she is not the only one, Galbreath is still not comfortable letting him ride the bus so she takes him to school everyday. Her mother is the only person she allows to keep him.
The women admit that they each felt guilty and wondered if they caused the problem.
“I asked the doctor what did I do wrong?,” said Galbreath, who was told the disorder could not have been prevented.
Davis asked similar questions.
“ It crossed my mind,” she said. “I thought back, I took my vitamins when I was pregnant, like I did with everybody else what went wrong. I didn’t linger on that thought too much. But all I knew was I needed to get educated.”
According to a fact sheet about Autism Spectrum Disorder distributed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “The theory that parental practices are responsible for ASD has long been disproved.”
But both moms have learned that awareness is still needed.
“Some people will say anything to you because they don’t know any better,” Galbreath said. “Then when you tell them, they’re like ‘oh ain’t nothing wrong with him’ and stuff like that. They don’t see what you see. So it’s hard.”
Resources are limited in Scotland County and in order to get services such as speech and occupational therapy, families have to go to Cumberland County.
Galbreath said she would like to see more available here. Jamie is able to get some help during school. She is currently on the waiting list in Cumberland County for occupational therapy.
“We don’t have anything here. I want to get him help so when he gets a little bit older it won’t be so hard on him,” she said.
Davis said she would like to see more programs designed for all special needs children.
Autism Society of North Carolina Director of Communications David Laxton, said there is no longer an office or representative of the organization in Scotland County, but anyone needing help can call 1-800-442-2762.
“We try to connect families whether it’s a physical presence or not,” Laxton said.
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.