Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ammon and Autism

My sister wrote this great paper on Ammon. I doubt she cares if I post it. I laughed while reading it, because it is all so true.

Enjoy the autistic side of the Hansen family.

My younger brother Ammon was born on November 16, 1999. He was 9 pounds 15 ounces and was perfectly healthy. Two days later, he received, without my parents’ knowledge, a hepatitis B immunization. This immunization was entirely unnecessary but because my parents did not specifically say they did not want him to have it, the doctors gave it to him. Nine months later, Ammon was diagnosed with severe autism. We believe the hepatitis B shot was a major contributing factor to Ammon’s diagnosis, and we have been dealing with the effects of it, and autism, for nine years since. A concrete language barrier and severe behavioral problems are just two of the frustrating results of autism that we must deal with on a daily basis.

Because of the severity of Ammon’s autism, he does not speak. He can say words, but he cannot, or rather will not, formulate words into sentences that can be understood. Occasionally if prompted he will say, “I want sleep” or “I want drink” but many times he does not really want what he says and is just saying those things out of habit. We know he knows what he wants, but for some reason he cannot express it. This leads to terrible tantrums which are frustrating to witness because we, as his family, feel helpless as we hear him scream and watch him bite his hands because he is so angry.

When he is not upset, he is often making weird noises, sometimes very repetitively, or acting very strange because we cannot communicate to him what is and is not “socially acceptable.” For example, if he sees someone with something he wants, he will just go and try to take it. His lack of social skills makes it difficult to take him anywhere in public because he can be very disruptive and many people do not understand his condition. When we do take him places, we can always feel the eyes of everyone around staring awkwardly or giving us dirty looks.

Another reason we cannot take him places is because he frequently runs away. We live in a rural place surrounded by fields and dirt roads and he loves to explore, but he obviously does not tell anyone when he is leaving or where he is going. If we do not keep a constant watch on him, he will disappear and we will have no idea which direction he has gone. When the weather is warm, he will sometimes run away four or five times a day and hours are spent searching for him. The fear this ignites in us is agonizing because there are ponds, creeks, mountain lions, and many other dangers that could quickly harm Ammon. Taking Ammon to the city is just as scary. On one occasion we were at my brother’s house in Provo and Ammon ran away when we were not looking. We all spread out to search and we found him across the street in someone’s house. He had just opened the front door and gone right in. Luckily in this instance there were not cars on the road he crossed, but if there had been, Ammon would not have paid any attention to them. He is oblivious to danger and in turn we always have to be on our toes.

Preventing Ammon from running away is not the only time we have to be on our toes. Ammon’s nickname is “The Master of Destruction.” For some reason we have yet to figure out, Ammon loves to destroy things. He goes through different stages of destruction and no matter what we do to try to prevent him from ruining things, he always finds a way. Sometimes he gets into a “dump things” stage. This is a very messy stage for us, but for some reason he finds it enjoyable to dump whatever he can get his hands on. Bottles of vanilla, syrup, or shampoo are a few of his favorite things to dump. One time he dumped a whole gallon of Dawn soap down the tub drain on the third floor which caused bubbles to flow freely from the toilets on the first floor. Another time he dumped a whole container of Lawry’s seasoning salt into the pancake mix, which my dad then used to make pancakes for breakfast the next morning. Without knowing there was something wrong and ignoring the pleas of the kids, he tried to force us to eat the pancakes. We then made him taste them, he relented, and the pancakes were thrown away.

Another one of Ammon’s favorite stages is his “cutting stage.” During this stage we have to hide every pair of scissors that we own because if Ammon finds them he will use them. His favorite things to cut are sheets, VHS tapes, pictures, and important papers. He seems to always cut our homework or my mom’s paper work even where there are hundreds of unimportant papers lying around. One time during a “cutting stage” he cut the sewing machine cord when it was plugged into the wall. My mom found the pieces of the cord lying next to a pair of charred scissors that had a chunk of metal missing from each blade. He has not cut a cord since then. These incidents are minor, relatively inexpensive, and occasionally humorous, but many of Ammon’s destructive escapades are exactly opposite.

Ammon seems to enjoy spending time in vehicles and damage usually occurs. One time he was in our van during a “cutting stage” and he cut four of the seatbelts. Another time he was left unattended in our suburban and he pulled it into drive. The suburban smashed in to our van, leaving sizable dents in both vehicles. The most expensive damage report so far occurred when my older brother left Ammon alone in the truck one day after school. He pulled the truck into drive and the truck smashed into the side of the school. The truck had a heavy duty bumper on the front so it was fine, but the school received a few hundred dollars worth of damage that my parents had to pay for.

Having Ammon is an adventure. The language barrier and the behavioral problems are a challenging part of Ammon’s autism, but as his family we try to be optimistic by finding as much humor as we can in the things he does. Still, we try to advise as many people as we can to steer clear of immunizations if they want to avoid autism and its effects.

Here is a link to my meet the siblings about Ammon.

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