By Kimberly O’Brien- Young
Few moments in life fill you with such pride and love that one feels compelled to write it down, but I have had such an experience.
I am blessed by three incredible sons. My journey as a mother began 13 years ago with the oldest, fraternal twins Jake and Sam. But when Jake turned 2 something happened. Within six weeks, the jabbering toddler that met all the milestones parents’ watch for slipped into another world. He developed late onset autism.
He quit talking. Eye contact, socializing, playing with his brother, feeding himself, every hard-earned developmental milestone disappeared. He regressed to the level of a 6-month-old baby. To say it was devastating really wouldn’t sum it up. We felt helpless against a silent enemy that had kidnapped our boy, never to return him.
At the time, autism rates nationally were skyrocketing; last year, 1 in 88 kids were diagnosed with the disorder that once was thought to affect 1 in 10,000 kids.
Beginning at age 2, our Jake began 40 hours per week of intensive therapies in speech, behavioral, and occupational therapy. He had to re-learn the basics again. Slowly, he has mostly dialed back up to age appropriate levels. He still struggles with understanding subtle cues in conversation and facial expressions. As you might imagine, this can cause difficulties at school on the playground and at lunch. Bullies tend to zero in on kids who are easy targets.
At 2, when Jake slipped away from us, his brother Sam lost his playmate and best friend. For several years, it was as if Sam were an only child even though another boy lived in the house and required continuous attention from all the adults. A typical response for a sibling of an autistic child might be to act out or become jealous. Not our Sam.
Almost immediately, Sam displayed remarkable empathy and understanding. Even at 3, if Jake grew distressed during long therapy sessions, Sam would assist the teacher by getting in his brother’s face, forcing eye contact, and telling him not to be afraid. He would hold his hand, pat his back, kiss his head, and offer a toy. Jake would calm more quickly with Sam than anyone else.
When the boys started school, Sam made sure Jake sat among his friends at the lunch table and would hone in on him during recess. Sam’s radar could detect Jake among several hundred kids, always watching to ensure that bully kids didn’t bother Jake. When they did, Sam would step up and immediately jump to his defense. Often these kids towered over Sammy, who was diminutive compared to his classmates.
One year, Jake’s special education classroom adjoined Sammy’s fourth-grade class. Through the walls of Sam’s class, he could hear Jake next door, upset and crying. Sammy raised his hand and asked for permission to go to his brother in the class next door. When upset, either at home or school, Jake would say, “Sammy, save me!” Even when others couldn’t penetrate the wall that autism created, Sam always found a way in.
In middle school, Sam’s posse lovingly protects and cares for Jake like big brothers. At sleepovers, Jake is invited to join in. When Jake creates a stop-motion Lego video, Sam and his friends watch and praise the results.
Once again, Sam’s love for his brother has motivated him to take on a big task: organize a Walk for Jake! team with a goal of raising $2,500. The team will participate in Walk Now for Autism Speaks, on Saturday, Oct. 13, at Irvine’s Great Park. The effort will raise funds for autism research.
I am writing and asking for your support of my son Sam and his loving efforts. Please go to www.walknowforautismspeaks.org and type in Sam Dameshek. Contributors and volunteers would be so greatly appreciated!
Sam will continue with fundraising for his bar mitzvah project. His long-term goal is to raise $5,000.
My youngest son Jude is now 6. Sammy and Jude are inseparable despite the seven-year age gap. Sammy is already instilling a sense of duty in his younger sibling. Proudly I watch as Sam teaches Jude how to best communicate with Jake. Soon Jude too will be able to navigate the locked corridors of autism where his brother dwells. Brotherly love holds the key.
Kimberly O’Brien- Young is mom to three boys and co-owns and operates Dana Point-based ADX Apparel with her husband Ben Young.