Ever since their son was born, Joey and Amber Rodriguez knew he was different. They learned quickly that they couldn’t listen to music in the car.
“It wasn’t like we played our music loud, it was normal – what you’d listen to on the way to work or the playground,” Joey said. “Jacob couldn’t take it. It was physically agonizing for him. He would scream.”
When Jacob was 6, his parents took him to a psychologist who diagnosed him with ADHD. And although Jacob displayed traits of the disorder, Joey and Amber didn’t feel that the diagnosis covered all of their son’s symptoms.
“In sixth grade, he was getting bullied a lot,” Amber said. “He was getting picked on for not being able to understand different social cues.”
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Jacob, 14, was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder two years ago. Formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome, Jacob’s condition is on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, affecting his ability to effectively socialize and communicate.
To increase understanding and awareness about ASD, Amber and Joey, along with others, have organized a local Light it up Blue campaign. On April 2 at 5 p.m., a Light it up Blue ceremony is planned at Indian Land Middle School with speakers and information about ASD as well as food trucks and games for the community. Everyone is invited.
Once the sun sets, Indian Land schools and business will light up blue.
It’s not just sound that can make Jacob uncomfortable. ASD also heightens his senses. An unpleasant odor smells especially repugnant to him the way a barely noticeable sound can become deafening.
Joey said having autism is like wearing a headset with two different wires. On a typical person’s headset, the social volume is set at five and the sensory volume – smells, sights and sounds – is also set at five. But Jacob’s sensory volume is turned up to eight or nine and his social volume is turned down to one.
“For you and me, it would be like having two or three rock concerts blaring in the back of our head,” Joey said. “Clicks of the light switch or a flickering of overhead lights – that’s 10 times the magnitude for him. He sees a big, flashing glow or hears a ver loud click, whereas we just hear background noise. And he has to drown all that out while he also tries to learn social cues that other people know naturally.”
High-functioning ASD is commonly misdiagnosed because of its social aspect, according to Joey. There aren’t many visible signs until the child reaches puberty when trends, clichés and trying to fit in with the crowd come into play.
“Those are things that Jacob really struggled with because he couldn’t understand why these things even mattered,” Joey said.
Although Jacob’s ASD diagnosis initially felt like a gut punch, once Amber and Joey had time to digest the news they realized it was a breakthrough.
“It’s changed his life, it’s changed our lives,” she said. “Because he can now understand it, it makes sense. He knows that his brain is different, it doesn’t think like everybody else’s.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children have ASD.
“The only thing we want out of this entire thing is to help people who might be in our situation and help people who don’t know enough about ASD to understand it a little bit more,” Joey said about Monday’s event. “It’s to celebrate those with differences.”
For more information, call 703-945-0636 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Jadrnicek: email@example.com