COMMENTARY: ‘I have all the weapons I need’ – taking action to heal your autistic child

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In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta shares her experience as the mother of three children on the autism spectrum.

My son Brandon, after he was diagnosed as autistic, had an appointment with a speech pathologist named Becky at a local children’s hospital. They say it was random and that the computer picked her, but I know now it was divine intervention.

I insisted that my momma tag along for the evaluation since she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with my child and I was just making it all up to get attention for myself. “You won’t trust your daughter,” I chided her, “so I’m gon’ take you with me and let these White folks with some letters behind their names tell you that Brandon has autism. Maybe you’ll listen to them.”

She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. I ain’t care. She was gon’ go with me to every appointment and every evaluation until she was on board with Brandon’s recovery plan.

When Becky came out to the lobby of the speech center to receive us, she had the biggest smile and the warmest spirit. I knew at that moment that she would be a blessing to my family.

While she evaluated Brandon, she insisted my mother and I stay in the room with her. Unlike other evaluators before her, she wanted to include us in what she was doing.

My ol’ nay-saying momma sat there with her arms folded and her legs crossed looking like the angry Black church usher that she is. Becky didn’t let Momma’s stank attitude intimidate her. She kept on testing. Asking questions. Running trials.

When Becky was done with everything, I could see my momma’s disposition had changed. Suddenly Momma saw what I saw – that my baby, her favorite grandson, had autism and would need intense help to get better.

Becky, being led by the Spirit, addressed my momma right away: “Mrs. Handy,” she assured her, “with the right therapy your grandson can be a normal kid, but it’s going to take a lot of work. But the hardest part is done. You’re no longer in denial.”

My momma couldn’t even breathe she was crying so hard…

Becky told her plainly, “You should be proud of your daughter for bringing little Brandon in as soon as she noticed something was wrong. That doesn’t typically happen with Black parents. Now, my White parents, I’ve had them bring their kids to be evaluated as young as six months old. That means they get treatment and services for their special needs child right away. Then, by the time the little kiddo heads to pre-school, they’ve had three years of therapy, and by then they’ve caught up to their friends.”

“But why don’t Black parents come in sooner?” my momma had the audacity to ask.

“Cause they’re in denial, just like you,” I fussed. “Instead of seeing that something is wrong with our kids and trying to fix it right away, we turn a blind eye.”

“And by the time my Black families start looking for help,” Becky added, “the child is five or six years old and they haven’t had any therapy, they can’t talk, and they’re acting out.”

I put another two-cents in: “Because they can’t talk, they’re in school frustrated and fighting. Now we run to a therapist looking for a miracle when we done missed out on three or four years of good therapy.”

“And early intervention is the key,” Becky reminded us. “The sooner your child gets help, the better the outcome.”

“So what’s next?” I asked Becky. “How do I get my baby to a point where autism is in his past and college and a career are in his future?”

I had been so frustrated prior to meeting Becky. Nobody helped me. Nobody told me what I needed to do. Not one doctor, therapist or specialist threw me a life-line.

Becky was different. She walked over to her desk, got a pencil, some paper and a clipboard that she handed to me and directed, “Write down what I’m about to tell you. This is what you need to do for Brandon.”

With that she laid out the road map for my son’s successful transition from special education to accelerated learner:

  • Get him into a quality private pre-school a few days per week. Keep him out of special education classes in the public school if you can. Make sure the pre-school teachers are educated and have degrees.
  • When he does go to elementary school, make sure you have a plan to mainstream him into a regular classroom as quickly as he’s ready for it.
  • Have him see a good private speech therapist. The public schools will provide some special services like speech and occupational therapy, but if you want the best care, you’re going to have to pay for it.
  • Find an occupational and physical therapist Brandon can visit once weekly so he can work on his fine and gross motor skills.
  • Get under the care of a developmental pediatrician and a developmental psychologist for yearly evaluations and medications that may be helpful to curb some of the typical autistic behaviors.
  • And finally, and most importantly, get him signed up for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy either at a center or in the home. This method of therapy has been proven the most effective at helping children with autism.

I could have kissed that White lady on the mouth. She had just laid out a solid foundation to help heal my child. But after looking over my notes, I asked, “How, Ms. Becky, can I afford this? Private school. Three or four different kinds of therapy. Medication from specialists who may or may not take my insurance—”

She cut me off: “There are scholarships and grants available that will give you the money to pay for everything you need for your child. All you have to do is go online to find them, then apply.”

I left her office with a mission, determined to find help for my baby.

The speech therapist she recommended cost a whopping $800 a month (they so good, honey, they don’t even take insurance; it’s a straight cash payment like the weed man). It didn’t come out of my pocket, though, because I applied for a United Health Care Foundation Grant that gave me $5,000 to cover the cost.

The tab for that applied behavior therapy for Brandon was $900 per month, and that was after our medical coverage kicked in. It didn’t matter because I found the C.A.D.E. scholarship [Children with Autism Deserve Education, a Minnesota nonprofit] and it paid for an entire year.

I continued to find more and more resources. Before it was all over, I raised nearly $50,000 to pay for all the good therapy Brandon needed. I got so good at finding money to pay for stuff, I started holding free workshops for parents who have special needs kids to teach them how to find grant money and scholarships for their children.

And guess what? All the White churches let me in, and they were always full of folks who were looking for financial assistance. Our Black churches would not let me in. Well, that’s not fair to say all of them rejected me; I’m still waiting on the deacon board from a few of them to get back with me.

And remember, I’m doing this for free!

Now, after three years of quality therapy like them White folks be getting, my child is in a regular kindergarten classroom. He’s reading, doing math, giving me eye contact, talking and talking back.

Yes, honey, he is a typical five-year-old boy. Today, right now, you can’t tell he had been diagnosed with autism.

God is good. I’m glad He chose me to be this bright little boy’s mommy. Brandon has hope and a bright future, and I’m thankful to Ms. Becky for giving me the roadmap to get there.

I was home free with Brandon’s recovery – or so I thought. I must have done too good a job, because the Lord decided to choose me two more times. My daughter Cameron and my son Daniel have also been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting ready to do battle. This time I have all the weapons I need. My family motto: We want our kids healed, not helped!

Sheletta has provided a list of centers in the Twin Cities that provide excellent care to children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. In addition, she’s provided links to all the scholarships and grants that are available to pay for therapy and medication. See below for details.

1. Partners in Excellence
2. Fraser Center
3. Family Achievement Center
4. Lovaas Institute
5. Minnesota Autism Center
6. Behavior Therapy Solutions
Scholarships/Grants available to pay for therapy
1. Children with Autism Deserve Education
2. United Healthcare Children’s Foundation
3. Small Steps In Speech
4. RiteCare of Minneapolis-St. Paul
5. Autism Recovery Foundation
6. First Hand Foundation
7. ACT Today
8. MyGOAL Enrichment Grant
9. Blooming with Autism
10. Helping Hand Foundation

Sheletta Brundidge is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at

COMMENTARY: Autism: moving from acceptance to action 

COMMENTARY: Autism: moving from acceptance to action 

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In honor of April being National Autism Awareness Month, Sheletta Brundidge shares the first of a two-part story chronicling her discovery that three of her four children were on the autism spectrum.

My son Brandon was two years old when our autism journey began. He was playing with a couple of toys in the restroom while I was nearby bathing his then-one-year old sister Cameron (I was pregnant with their soon-to-be-born baby brother Daniel at the time). She was splashing around in the tub having fun and I guess he decided he’d look for a neighboring body of water to splash around in, too.

Brandon made a bee-line for the toilet and took a nose dive. Being a germaphobe I yelled out, “Noooooooooooo!” before sprinting over to pull his head out of the bowl. His face was wet, his hair was damp and he was as happy as he could be.

I immediately took Cameron out of the tub and put Brandon in, scrubbing him as hard as I could trying to get those toilet germs off his face. I remember looking at him in the eye and pleading “Son, don’t play in the toilet, okay?”

He looked beyond me with a blank stare, as if I wasn’t standing there. I knew instantly something was wrong. The light that had been in my son’s eyes was dimmed ever so slightly.

He couldn’t figure out what I was saying to him, and worse yet, he didn’t know how to respond. He began babbling and looking around as if imaginary butterflies were capturing his attention. He couldn’t give me direct eye contact.

“Oh no,” I thought, “Something is wrong with my baby!” Then I wondered, “How long has this been going on?” I blamed myself for not noticing sooner. How could I not see that my son was slipping into darkness?

I was working full-time, raising a growing family, being a mom, a wife, a daughter, an employee. I was busy keeping my house clean and too preoccupied with chores to have a handle on my child’s mental development.

I hadn’t taken a moment to notice —until my son dunked his head in a toilet — that he wasn’t behaving like a normal two-year-old.

He was lining his food up and not eating it. He was still drinking from a bottle.

He wouldn’t make eye contact. He was babbling instead of talking. He didn’t respond to his name when I called for him. I missed all the warning signs. I ignored all the clues.

My. Son. Had. Autism.

I cried. I stopped eating. I got down to 96 pounds. I was curled up in the fetal position under the table, unable to do anything except feel sorry for myself. My momma had to come and take care of my kids. I couldn’t even fold laundry or brush my teeth, because, of course, I made it all about me. I’m a narcissist after all.

Somehow I thought I had failed as a parent and caused my son to have autism. So, instead of getting busy finding help for my child, I cowered in fear of what life had to offer a Black boy with special needs.

Since he couldn’t speak, would the police shoot him if he didn’t respond to their commands?

Would he ever be able to get a job and support himself? What about college? Without words, could he find a wife?

All the dreams I had for little Brandon were taking a nose dive out of the freakin’ window.

I had decided, that at age two, my son’s life was over and there was no hope for him.

But God reached down and snatched me out from under the kitchen table and said: “I chose you!” My spirit awakened and I realized this was a blessing: Of all the women in the world, God picked me to be Brandon’s mother. What an honor that He selected me to be the shepherd of this little life.

I had to get it together for my baby, so he could live out his God-given destiny and reach his full potential. It was all on me to get it done.

First I went to the folk closest to me for assistance. But since I didn’t have friends who had kids with special needs, nobody could tell me what to do. I tried to call on my family but that quickly backfired.

My momma brushed off my suspicions about Brandon having autism as just me being dramatic. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that damn boy. You just looking for attention; he gon’ talk when he gets ready. Your cousin Meme didn’t talk until she was 3.”

My grandmother outright blamed me for everything, “If you had just got an epidural during your pregnancy,” she quipped, “the boy would be fine now. But you wanted to do that natural childbirth [expletive]. He probably ain’t get no oxygen to his brain. That’s why he ain’t talking. It’s your fault, Sheletta.”

Since family and friends wouldn’t come to my rescue, I turned to the professionals.

Everything that I read about having an autism diagnosis said early detection and intervention is the key to success. So I made an appointment at a children’s hospital to get Brandon evaluated and tested for autism.

After three hours of checking out my son, the doctor stepped out of the room and declared, “Yep, you were right, your child has autism. Have a good life.”

Now what? What do I do with my special needs child? Does he need a prescription to keep him from flapping his hands? Or some speech sessions a couple times a week to help him learn how to talk? They didn’t give me one damn referral — not even a tip on what kind of therapy he needed or how I could go about getting services for Brandon.

I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, but I kept hearing God say, “I chose you!”

I knew this was gon’ be a “Roll up your sleeves — against all odds — me and my baby against the world” situation. So I went to my husband Shawn and asked if I could quit my job.

Without the worry of working every day, I dedicated my life to learning more about autism spectrum disorders and looking for ways to heal my child.

I didn’t want to get help for him. Forget help! I wanted Brandon healed from this autism diagnosis, so he could grow up to be the man God designed him to be without deficit or deficiency. I prayed for God to send the answer and He did.

But in the meantime, both Cameron and my newborn son Daniel were diagnosed with autism as well.

Next week, Sheletta encounters an angel who guided her through the proper therapy and medication to heal her son Brandon from the effects of his autism diagnosis. She will provide a blueprint for other parents to find services for their special needs children and scholarships that are available to pay for it all.

To learn more about autism, go here