Update on Patrick
- Posted on October 23, 2007
Patrick is our 22-year-old grandson who has autism and I have periodically discussed him in this column over the last 19 years. He came to live with us when he was three years old, his mother being institutionalized with mental illness and his father having sought refuge in a bottle. When Patrick first came to us, he had no language skills and would bite his arm in frustration until it bled. Autism is a terrible disability and we are in the midst of an epidemic of it in this country. One in 150 babies born today will be autistic.
Jane and I reared five children, all of whom have gone to college, and indeed four of them have completed graduate work. When we undertook to rear Patrick, it changed our lives forever; however, our results with Patrick have been most gratifying. To rear this brain damaged child has not only been the most consuming, but also one of the most interesting things we have ever done.
Patrick has mental brilliance in certain aspects and can remember the day and date of the week many years in the past. He has struggled mightily to adjust himself to this world. When he was a little boy, I well recall how he explained to himself daylight and darkness, saying, “When sun goes down, dark comes up.”
We have had much outstanding help with Patrick. In the beginning, when there were those who wanted to institutionalize Patrick, it was Anderson attorney Bob Waldrep who arranged for the custody, etc. it was Louise Ravenel, as state chair of Protection and Advocacy, who brought in authorities on the subject. And over the years we have had 50 or more college students to augment the Luvass program we found. Patrick remembers each and every one of these students who were Luvass therapists, and when they are in this part of the state they stop by to see him.
The good thing about Patrick is that, while he still doesn’t speak plainly all the time, his activities continue to improve even at the age of 22. Like the other day. Without me suggesting it, he looked at my fingernails that had become a bit long (I have trouble with these due to my loss of vision), and decided they needed cutting. He got some scissors and carefully cut all my fingernails and even carefully bandaged one he left bleeding.
Actually, he’s a great deal of help around the house and when I am on the long halls of our church and at work and at the university, he gets the wheelchair out of the trunk of the car and wheels me around very nicely.
Right now Patrick has two therapists who have been with him since he was a child. They began working with him while they were in college. Now that they’ve finished school and are settled in this area, they are with him more as companions than as trained therapists using the Luvass method of behavior modification, because both are in the school system up in Oconee County. One student has signed on and finished her very intensive training at the Department of Disabilities and Special needs to be with him, and she awaits only a nod from a SLED background check, which is required by law.
Also, there is the very promising method I wrote about at the initial opening of Upstate Speechworks in Easley, where Patrick was Christie Jones’ first patient. She sees him once a week for speech and socialization therapies. We believe from her work with him that he’s improved in many ways. He’s more affectionate, more interested in other people’s conversations, reading more and comprehending what he reads. This summer he followed Jane’s instructions and improved his swimming stroke. He seems to be waking up less at night and has put himself on a good schedule to improve his sleeping habits. According to Christie, his listening profile leveled off within the first 12 days of her program at Speechworks. She thinks his hearing sensitivities have decreased. He loves to sing, always has, especially camp songs, and he memorized all the “We Sing” books while growing up. Now he reads the words to songs we sing in church that are flashed on a large screen during the services. His behavior during the sermons is quiet and reflective. Patrick shows normal respect for his grandparents and others that a person without autism would show.
So that’s what’s going on with Patrick. We’d hate to be without him. We can’t imagine what life without him would be.
William Harvey Hunter, MD
(Dr. Hunter is a Clemson physician, he practices at Oconee Family Practice in Seneca, and Chairman of Clemson University's Calhoun Lecture Series. He is a regular columnist for the Anderson-Independent Mail.)
Dr. Hunter's articles can be found on the Strom Thurmond Institute web site at http://www.strom.clemson.edu/events/calhoun/