Autism is a disorder that affects individuals and families across the world, including those right here in Manhattan. One such family is the Ostroms and their son, Ayden.
Lon and Kathy Ostrom adopted Ayden, now a 6-year-old kindergartener, at the age of four. It was not long after the adoption that the new parents realized something was different about their son. One afternoon, after a few long months of not being able to communicate with their Ayden, the family was driving when the song “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z came on the radio.
“He couldn’t say goodbye and he couldn’t call me ‘Mommy,’ but he could sing this song,” Kathy Ostrom said.
Six months into the adoption, after witnessing his musical talents along with his lack of communication through speech, the Ostroms took Ayden to KU Medical Center for further diagnosis. Ayden was diagnosed with autism.
Autism is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development, which are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “about 1 in 88 children have been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
After the diagnosis, Ayden’s parents knew that they needed to get him into therapy in order to make his life a little easier. They enrolled Ayden in K-State’s speech program for about a year and a half, which made a significant change in his communication with his family members and friends.
Each individual diagnosed with autism is unique, and the difficulties vary from case to case. In Ayden’s case, he would throw immense temper tantrums, could not step foot in malls or restaurants, was frightened by loud places, could not be taken out of his daily routine and did not like taking baths, specifically getting water on his head.
“To go to a restaurant, he would go hide underneath the tables and he wouldn’t look at people in the eyes,” Ostrom said. “I would take him to the mall and he would be kicking and screaming, and I would do all the things necessary to calm him down.”
Certain strategies can be used to calm children with autism when they have episodes. Ayden likes having his hands rubbed or getting massages. Along with the things that calm him, Ayden never strays from his daily routine. If his school schedule doesn’t go accordingly or he does not get the exact same lunch every day, it often stresses him out and causes him to have temper tantrums.
However, Ayden’s life is not always full of episodes or struggles. He has a passion for swimming, taekwondo, playing Wii, listening to music and watching several television shows. Ayden is like any other 6-year-old, Kathy Ostrom said, and just because he has autism doesn’t mean he is different.
“Ultimately, it’s being totally aware that these kids with autism are normal children,” she said.
Ayden is one child out of 12 in the Ostrom family, with seven adopted, including Ayden, and five biological. Ayden’s siblings never look at him as disabled, but as just another one of them.
Amanda George, 23, a soon-to-be member of the Ostrom family, is the sibling among his new family Ayden connects to most.
“Ayden is totally my favorite,” George said. “He is so intelligent and so kind-hearted. He always makes me laugh.”
Not only does Ayden connect well with his parents and George, he is also close with his 7 year old biological sister, Rilee, who was also adopted by the family.
Coming from the same foster family as well, Rilee and Ayden share a special bond and Rilee is protective over him.
“I love him,” Rilee said. “He is my favorite brother.”
Ayden is one of many children on the Autism spectrum across the world. Since the 1970s, the Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month during April. The society dedicates this month to raising awareness of the disorder and educating the public about autism.
In order to show support for Autism Awareness during the month, individuals may wear the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon as a pin or magnet on their car. Some even set it as their profile picture on Facebook.