University of Vermont

How Autism Has Affected My Life: Student Interest Group Hosts Awareness Series

Autism Awareness Lunch and Lecture Series

Growing up, medical student Alice Stoddart ’16 said she sometimes felt like she took on a “third parent” role in her household. With a brother about six years younger than her who is severely autistic, her family had to struggle through the diagnosis and treatment of a still somewhat mysterious disorder characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication.

“There have been lots of challenges along the way,” Stoddart said. “But you gain patience and insight.”

Stoddart was one of four panelists April 24 for the final event in the first annual Autism Awareness Month Lunch and Lecture Series organized by the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Student Interest Group. Students filled Med Ed 200 to learn more about autism from two medical students with siblings who have autism, the parent of a child with autism, and a staff member from Green Mountain Self Advocates, an organization run by people with disabilities to help others develop communication and advocacy skills.

Lauren Jordan, the parent of a 13 year-old son with autism, said she first noticed alarming signs while her son was still an infant. Loud noises would make her son, T.J., very upset, she said, and he would fixate on certain visual cues, like a ceiling fan turning. After he was diagnosed at two years-old, Jordan said she contacted the precursor to the Vermont Family Network and lined up a speech therapist and physical therapist, both of whom regularly visited their home. Now a 7th grade student, Jordan said her son is finding his place thanks in part to a close-knit school community.

“They feel so protective of him,” she said. “We feel very fortunate.”

Diagnosed as autistic in the “single digits” of his life, Max Barrows came to advocacy early on. “In high school I would see the divide between students with and without disabilities,” he said. “I was kind of stuck in the middle.” Now he continues to bridge that gap through his work with Green Mountain Self Advocates. He asked the crowd – filled in part with future doctors - to be sensitive to the needs of people with autism and other disabilities who may need more time to process information.

“There are individuals who may community differently,” he said, urging patience when talking about complicated medical issues.

For Brandon Childs ’16, his younger brother’s journey to a diagnosis took longer than some: It wasn’t until his sibling was ten years-old, after a misdiagnosis of ADHD, that his family finally determined he was on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.  Childs said his brother finds it hard to process social cues, and can be honest to a fault. But he’s also gifted academically and hopes to become an engineer.

“He’s just the coolest kid you’ll ever meet,” Childs said. “He’s made my life an awesome experience.”