By Laura McAlister
Brian and Chrissy Schubert knew they were in for some major life changes when they moved their family of five to Birmingham. They just didn’t realize how major those changes would be.
The Schuberts moved to Birmingham from Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., in the summer of 2011 to open the new Chick-fil-A in Five Points South. In addition to opening the restaurant, the change would mean making new friends, finding a church and enrolling their three children in school.
What they weren’t expecting, though, was having to enroll their youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Ady, in a special school for children with developmental disorders.
Chrissy, a stay-at-home mom, suspected Ady had some development delays at about 18 months. But with a husband away at work and her two sons at school, she was the only one to take notice in the beginning.
Then after the move to Birmingham while Brian was waiting for the restaurant to open, he also started to notice some changes in his daughter’s behavior.
“She was making less eye contact and had fewer words than when she was 15 months,” he said. “It’s like she lost her words. She wouldn’t play peek-a-boo anymore.”
The Schuberts took her to a psychologist, and Chrissy’s suspicions were confirmed. Ady had autism.
Though their daughter looks completely healthy – she’s got light blond, curly hair and big blue eyes – she has trouble communicating, and she has little interest in children her own age.
While other toddlers were playing with dolls and puzzles, Ady was obsessed with toothbrushes. She amassed quite a collection and typically wouldn’t eat or sleep without them, Brian said. Although she’s gotten over her fascination with toothbrushes, she still has odd attachments to objects, Chrissy said.
On the autism spectrum, Ady falls in the middle, Chrissy said, and thanks to early intervention and the help of autism groups in the area, she suspects her daughter will be able to attend regular school in the near future.
“She’ll just always have a little more difficult time than other children,” Chrissy said. “Things that come easily for other children are going to be more difficult for her. It think it’s important for parents to be accepting.”
When the Schuberts moved to Birmingham, Chrissy began researching the disorder that is much more common in boys, though it’s found in girls, too. She joined a chat group on Yahoo and connected with the Autism Society of Alabama. The Schuberts also joined Highlands Church, which has a special needs ministry.
The Autism Society provided Chrissy with literature on the disorder and told her about Mitchell’s Place, a local school for children with autism and other development delays. Ady now attends there five days a week.
“We were really blessed to get into Mitchell’s Place,” Chrissy said. “Usually you have to wait. It’s been very great for her. It’s very structured, very ABA-based (Applied Behavioral Analysis).”
During the short time Ady’s been at the school, Brian said he’s been able to see his daughter progress.
“She’ll answer to her name now some,” he said. “I also think she’s saying more words but not pronouncing them.”
The family also has been able to adjust, though it’s not always easy. Chrissy said her 15-year-old son Bailey is helpful. Their 5-year-old Camdon is starting to understand that Ady is a little different.
“He tells people this is his sister, she can’t talk,” Chrissy said.
Chrissy said weekends are the hardest. Ady doesn’t sleep well most nights, and on weekends, she wants her parents’ full attention. Sometimes she has temper tantrums, but at least now, the family said, they know they are not alone.
As more and more children are being diagnosed with autism – an estimated one in 110 kids are affected, according to the Autism Society – families like the Schuberts hope more people will learn about autism and treat the disorder with early intervention.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Several events scheduled throughout the month will raise funds and awareness about the developmental disorder. Below are some of those events in the Over the Mountain area:
Step It Up 5K and Fun Run
April 21, 9 a.m.
UAB’s Alpha Xi Delta sorority will host the second annual Step It Up 5K and one-mile fun run to raise money for Autism Speaks April 21 at Railroad Park. Registration begins at 9 a.m. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for ages 12 and under. Pre-register at http://events.autismspeaks.org/AlphaXiBirmingham. For more information, contact Lauren Hanhauser at email@example.com or 910-9278.
Ezell’s Funky Fish Fry
April 28, 12:30 p.m.
The Junior Board of the Autism Society of Alabama and the Junior Council of Mitchell’s Place are teaming up again to host the third annual Ezell’s Funky Fish Fry. The family-friendly event is April 28 from 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the lawn across from Emmet O’Neal Library in Crestline Village. Included are children’s activities, live music, food and prizes ranging from a diamond to a Big Green Egg. Ezell’s Catfish will serve its famous fried catfish, coleslaw and hushpuppies. This year’s music lineup includes Tangerine Tambourine, Earthbound and Eric Lindell. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. They can be purchased online at www.funkyfishfry.com. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Each ticket includes admission and one food plate. Alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase. For more information, visit www.funkyfishfry.com or contact Niki Harris at 960-2035 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walk for Autism
The Walk for Autism will offer a three-mile fun walk, resource fair, food vendors, kids’ craft station, prizes and more. Teams and individuals can participate. Registration is $25 per person and includes a T-shirt. Register at autism-alabama.org or by calling the Walk Hotline at 877-4AUTISM.
Mitchell’s Place Summer Camps
June 4-14; June 18-28; July 9-19
Glenwood Main Campus
Mitchell’s Place three two-week summer camp sessions are from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Thursday. The cost is $500 a session with a $50 deposit due with application, which will go toward the balance due on the first day of camp. Activities include hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, sports, games, crafts, music and dancing. Camps will emphasize communication, teamwork, friendship, social skills and age-appropriate leisure activities. Children must be school age and able to participate in activities with a five to one student to teacher ratio. They also must be potty trained and have a functional system of communication. Space is limited to 20 students. Contact Sandy Naramore at 957-0294 or email@example.com for more information.