As we enter Autism Awareness Month, I thought it would be particularly timely to emphasize that autism, while life changing, can be overcome. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typically characterized by difficulties with nuanced social-interaction, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. Autism has become a childhood epidemic with an often grim prognosis. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report, which concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the U.S. – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys.
My son, Liam, was born happy and healthy in January of 1996 and was continuously meeting every developmental milestone. Approximately two years later, he was diagnosed with autism. The initial prognosis was devastating. One pediatric neurologist even suggested institutionalization might be required for Liam’s care in the future.
Liam, like so many young men and women, has defied that gloomy prediction. Personal and parental perseverance can make all of the difference. Unlike most kids who start their Scouting experience at a very young age, Liam was not socially ready to join Boy Scouts until he was 16 years old. Despite his late start and obvious disadvantage, he was determined to advance in Scouting. His ultimate goal, despite his unique challenges, was to reach the highest rank in Scouting – the rank of Eagle Scout.
As an Eagle Scout myself, I assure you, whether you are a “neurotypical” young man, much less a young man with special needs or physical disabilities, the path to Eagle Scout is a difficult and daunting one. Not every boy who joins a Boy Scout troop earns the Eagle Scout rank; only about 5 percent of all Boy Scouts do so. This represents more than two million Boy Scouts who have earned the rank since 1912.
After attaining all the necessary merit badges and fulfilling all the other rank advancements, the final critical hurdle is the development, planning, and execution of an approved Eagle Scout Service Project. After a visit to Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital because of a seizure, Liam decided he would like to help sick children, given his natural empathy and love for caring and comforting children. He, too, has had his own prior hospital experiences at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and wanted to help other kids who were like him.
Liam decided to raise funds to purchase and stock the Comfort Cart, Horticulture Therapy program, and Art Carts at the hospital, all part of the hospital’s growing volunteer program. All of the carts are designed to provide respite for sick children and their families confined in the hospital. Medical studies show that these kinds of activities often help speed up recovery.
Liam’s project was a resounding success. With the overwhelming kindness and generosity of family, friends and strangers, Liam raised $5,441.10 to purchase and stock the carts for many years to come. Yes, Liam has autism. Yes, Liam has challenges. Nonetheless, as of March 6, 2017, Liam Patrick Reynolds overcame both the typical and his unique challenges to become an Eagle Scout. He has joined the 5%! Your child can, too!