Living with autism

Courtesy photo Brenden Webb, 5, relaxes in a swing. Brenden has autism, and though he is able to participate in many activities typical for a child of his age, his condition presents challenges as well.

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Brenden Webb just celebrated his fifth birthday.

The curly-haired bundle of energy likes finding rocks, playing with his laptop and exploring the world around him at full speed. But he keeps his impressions of people and things locked deep within.

Brenden is autistic.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a neurological disorder that affects normal functioning of the brain, according to the Autism Society of America.

Brenden’s mother, Katie Webb, said her son was “on or above target” until the age of 2. But Brenden lost his language and non-verbal communication after receiving his first measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, said Webb, whose husband, Maj. Rod Webb, is stationed at Cannon Air Force Base.

“We watched our normally advantageous and intuitive child turn inwards almost overnight,” she said.

Webb said her son had a vocabulary of approximately 150 words before going silent.

Webb and her husband began speech therapy for their son within months of noticing the change. At the urging of a speech pathologist, Katie Webb said she took Brenden to see a developmental pediatrician.

That was the day Brenden was diagnosed with autism.

“I remember promising my son that day that we would do everything to help him,” Katie Webb said.

And helping Brenden is how Webb has spent her days for the last three years. “I spent hours on the phone,” she said, “but I was getting nowhere fast.”

Webb eventually found a support group and enrolled Brenden in occupational therapy, speech and behavioral therapy.

“I also made several nutritional changes to Brenden’s already self-limited diet,” she said.

Webb said one biggest frustrations associated with autism is the lack of knowledge associated with the disorder. “No one knows why (autism is on the rise),” she said. “At this point there is not one theory proven or unproven.”

To offset that frustration, Webb has started a support group called Support Starts Here.

“I started it out of a need to network,” Webb said of the group. Webb said parents of children with developmental delays meet monthly to explore ways and determine sources to help their children.

“We are sharing our joys, fears, strategies and dreams,” she said.

Webb also hopes to educate other parents on the myths associated with autism.

“Every child is different, autistic or not,” she said, “and autism does not mean a child is unable to have close, loving relationships.”

Brenden attends pre-school at Los Niños and his teacher said he is doing well.

“We are so happy that Brenden is sharing his first school experience with us,” Kim Matlock said. “Brenden has a very sweet spirit and a joyful attitude and is catching on quickly.”

When Brenden isn’t attending therapy or school, he enjoys playing at the playground with other children. And Webb hopes that Brenden will meet some playmates during those trips to the park.

“People should encourage their children to play with an autistic child,” she said. “This not only helps the child but will also teach them a lot more about the world and the many autistic people in it.”