At first glance, Jennifer Adams-Tucker’s family looks pretty standard- a mom, a dad, two girls, and two boys. However, when three of your four children are diagnosed with autism, your story is anything but standard. And that’s the story that Jennifer wants to share with others to prove that individuals with Autism can “shine, achieve, inspire” and can overcome societal obstacles to accomplish amazing things.
Prior to her son, Darryl Jr., being diagnosed with autism, Jennifer was not at all familiar with the condition. “I think the only thing I had seen on Autism was a video I had seen a few years ago. The day Darryl Jr. was diagnosed with Autism was scary. I was in this white room with the doctors just telling me ‘he probably won’t be able to this, this, and this.’ It was just all really negative,” Adams-Tucker said.
She looked to her husband for support. “I looked at Darryl with tears in my eyes. Darryl looked up to the doctors and said ‘That’s okay, he’s still my boy!’” These were the words that would carry her through a variety of emotions, but at that point she realized that she and her husband needed to do their research.
She found that Autism is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States has an Autism Spectrum Disorder…ASD’s are almost 5 times more common among boys than among girls and they are reported in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of Autism and symptoms of Autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age. For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment is essential for developmental progress to be made with Autistic children. This is where First Steps came into play for Jennifer and her family. First Steps is a statewide early intervention system that provides services to children with developmental disabilities from birth to age 3 and their families. “It was great. They came into my home and provided my children with the therapy that they needed.”
In addition the therapy, another key to managing the process of raising a child with Autism is finding a support system. This was especially true for Jennifer after her youngest two children, twins Danyelle and Dominique, were diagnosed with autism. “I knew the signs and was more prepared for the diagnosis, so it wasn’t as hard at first. But then I realized, this is still difficult, and I need support.”
Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT) of Louisville is a non-profit organization that actively supports and funds Autism programs for the entire family. Created for families, FEAT of Louisville is dedicated to easing the Autism journey through ongoing support, education and programs. Much of our work is done by volunteers to assist in growing our support programs and services.
Jennifer knew that the support that she had received from various Autism outreach programs had helped both she and her children immensely on their journey, and she wanted to serve as an advocate for the special needs community. Jennifer had been keeping a journal, a “letter to her children”, detailing their individual strengths and talents, and their struggles with autism. After some encouragement from family and friends, she had it published to serve as an encouragement to other parents of Autistic children.
“I started volunteering at my local library to hold sessions where I discussed my book Autistic Angels; A Story for a Mother to her Children. I invited special needs groups, such as FEAT of Louisville to come and give information to anyone who attended the event. Soon after the event, FEAT asked me to become a member of their Board of Directors. This enabled me to further reach out to my community. I have been able to hold additional informational meetings at the Newburg Library and help with various other Autism awareness projects because of this opportunity,” Adams-Tucker said. And since that time her involvement has just continued to expand.
“Just this year I was also asked to join the Exceptional Teens and Adults Board of Directors as well. Two weeks ago I received a call from Governor Beshear’s office. I was told the Governor had appointed me to the Kentucky Early Intervention System Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC). I was so excited; I did know what to do. In a nutshell, this council advises and assists First Steps, which my own children benefited greatly from.”
Sydney Tucker, Jennifer’s oldest daughter, also seeks to be an advocate for children with special needs. When asked if she knew that her siblings were different from her, she responded “different, but not that different.” In November 2008, Sydney was featured in “The O- Magazine” for her big dreams of becoming a special education teacher when she grows up. Her main motivation is her love for D.J., Danyelle, and Dominique.”
When asked what advice Jennifer would give a parent of a newly-diagnosed Autistic child, she replied, “I would tell them, first of all, don’t give up. It is really hard sometimes, but don’t give up. Your child can achieve amazing things by getting the help they need through organizations like FEAT and First Steps. My kids’ Autism varies with regards to severity, but they can all be happy. Then I would tell them to do whatever makes them feel comfortable; sometimes parents of Autistic children have to approach situations in public differently, and that’s okay.”
She went on to give the example of sending a letter to her church detailing her children’s individual disabilities and personalities, just to make the ministry faculty aware that her children’s behavior could sometimes be misunderstood as misbehavior, when in fact they are merely expressing themselves as children with Autism do. The resulting response was incredibly accommodating. Danyelle now sings in the church choir, and Darryl Jr. sometimes sits on the piano bench with his mom. “I didn’t have to send that letter, but it definitely made me feel more comfortable.”
Overall, Jennifer and her husband Darryl, feel incredibly blessed- just as Jennifer seeks to bless and encourage other parents of Autistic children. She said that she simply hopes her story will inspire others to see in individuals with special needs what she has seen in her own children. Jennifer had concluded her book by saying, “If your child has Autism, or any disability, be encouraged! Your child is special and can achieve great things,” and through her work as an advocate for the special needs community, she is helping other children realize their full potential.
Photos: Article, Brandi Walker Photography; Cover, Shutterstock/Mark Harreid