Tuesday, Jun 2, 2020
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The Holberts’ normal

Ryan and J’Jitana Holbert have one goal in mind – and that’s to ensure that when their four-year-old son who has an unofficial autism diagnosis – reaches adulthood that he is as self-sufficient as possible, so that he can move on, and they can live their lives. Their son Ji’Ten was unofficially diagnosed as high functioning and with echolalia which means he repeats sounds and words and according to his mother J’Jitana, Ji’Ten has a 70 percent chance of being able to speak, has excellent cognitive skills, and understands fairly well which bodes well for him being self-sufficient in adulthood as long as he is able to get the proper intervention treatment early. And they’re not of that school of thought where they think they should have another child to look after their special needs sibling.

The couple refuses to allow autism to be an issue for their family.

For the Holberts – Ryan, 30 and J’Jitana, 31, who have been married for five years, learning to navigate first-time parenthood, while at the same time learning how to cope with autism is their normal. They don’t have another child by which to grade their son, Ji’Ten.

“He is our only child, and we don’t have another child to grade him by. And I’m thankful that I don’t have another child to grade him by. I’m really thankful that it’s just him and that we could go through this experience together,” said J’Jitana. “Hopefully at [age] 21, Ji’Ten can leave us and move on so that we can carry on with our lives. That’s the plan for now. And I’m hopeful,” said the mother.

She said they do not plan on having any more children. It wasn’t a decision they arrived at after realizing Ji’Ten’s developmental delays. The decision to only have one child was a decision the Holberts had made when they got married as they considered the expense involved in raising and educating children.

“By the time Ji’Ten is 18, college would be in the hundreds of thousands, so it was just a financial move for us. But after looking at Ji’Ten being autistic, I think it would be unfair to bring another child into that situation and say that if I have this child that child would take care of Ji’Ten. I want to make Ji’Ten as self-sufficient as possible, and if the good Lord blesses us with another child we’re fine with that,” she said.

“Autism right now for my husband and myself is our normal.”

J’Jitana was the first to recognize their son had developmental delays after he did not meet certain milestones.

Signs that a baby under the age of one may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include not babbling by four months old; not smiling by five months old; not laughing by six months old; no interest in games like peek-a-boo by eight months old; not responding to their name by 12 months old; not looking at objects pointed out by other people by 12 months old; being upset by loud noises; not looking to a parent for comfort in new situations; being happy to play alone for long periods of time; and not making eye contact.

Some signs that a toddler between one-year-old and two years old may have ASD include not developing language skills such as saying mama or dada by the age of one, or using simple sentences by two years old; only saying one word at a time; repeating words over and over; lacking interest in playing social games or being around other children; not making eye contact; not imitating others; and engaging in repetitive behavior such as flapping hands, rocking or twirling.

J’Jitana noticed that her son was not meeting milestones such as speaking and walking on the tips of his toes. She also said he displayed a level of obsessive compulsive disorder when it came down to toys and having things neat and organized. Her awareness of autism she said made it easy for her to realize that something was wrong with her son, coupled with the fact that she was an education major at the then College of The Bahamas, the now University of The Bahamas. In addition, she had a sympathetic nature toward special needs persons.

Ji’Ten was unofficially diagnosed on February 26, 2018 – one day before his third birthday by Dr. Michelle Major at Seahorse Institute as a high functioning autistic.

“I already knew something was going on with him. I already knew within myself that it was autism. And Dr. Major at Seahorse just basically confirmed it for us,” said J’Jitana.

She said her husband on the other hand was in denial and did not think anything was wrong with their son. She said like most parents and most people, he thought that as a boy Ji’Ten simply developed slower and that his speech would come.

Ji’Ten also has echolalia which means he repeats sounds and words and J’Jitana says her son has a 70 percent chance of being able to speak, has excellent cognitive skills, and understands fairly well.

J’Jitana said at the unofficial diagnosis she was sad, but also relieved.

“To be honest with you, every parent I think that has a child that is autistic goes through a grieving period – a period when you realize there are particular things that your child may not be able to do – like get married and have a family and so on and so forth, but as I see Ji’Ten and as I look at autism closely, I’m thankful, because my son could have been a lot worse off and I am very hopeful and optimistic for the future with regards to him and his development.”

J’Jitana says she’s proud of everything he does, even though he’s too aggressive.

With an unofficial diagnosis, the Holberts are doing everything within their power to help their son to live as normal a life as he possibly can, and have turned to early intervention, enrolling Ji’Ten in Willard Patton Pre-School’s Special Education Unit and getting him to do intervention therapy as recommended by Major even though they do not have an official diagnosis as yet.

Besides Willard Patton, Government schools with autistic units include Garvin Tynes Primary School, Palmdale Primary School, Anatol Rodgers Junior School, D.W. Davis Junior School and Stapledon School.

Private schools with autistic units include Dayspring Academy, Jamboree Kids Pre-school, Summit Academy, The Learning Center, Hopedale Center, Blairwood Academy, St. Andrew’s School, Seahorse Institute, Down Syndrome & Friends, and Windsor Preparatory.

The Holberts are working through the process to have Ji’Ten officially diagnosed which they said would make more options available to them. They could also seek a diagnosis abroad or at Seahorse Institute which would cost thousands for the Holberts who are both civil servants.

They have joined REACH (Resource and Education for Autism and Related Challenges), a non-profit organization that aims to provide parents with comprehensive knowledge and tools in all areas of the neurobiological disorder.

J’Jitana said REACH has given them a wealth of knowledge that they could not purchase.

During Autism Awareness Month which is recognized in April, people around the world come together to go blue to increase global understanding and acceptance of people with autism, J’Jitana wants people to understand that their son is not rude.

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have difficulty processing sensory information around them – this can include sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of touch, according to ada.com. A person may be under or over sensitive to a sensation like noise, bright light or certain smells. This can cause them to lose focus, become upset or behave in unexpected ways in order to manage the sensations they are experiencing. This sensory overload can also cause people with autism to not be able to look at others’ facial expressions when listening, or to be unable to focus on questions or complicated instructions at the same time as listening to another person talk.

For some people with autism, sensory overload can become overwhelming. In these situations, a person may have a meltdown; a change in routine can also precipitate a meltdown, which is not a temper tantrum, and can be experienced by someone with autism of any age.

“Autistic children often have a lot of sensory issues, and Ji’Ten has a lot of sensory issues. He doesn’t want people to touch his hair – sometimes being around a lot of people is distracting, and a lot for him to take on. Lights … sounds are a lot for him to take on,” said his mother. “Oftentimes, especially in The Bahamas, people just assume your child is rude … you need to cut that child hip and all that other good stuff. With J’Ten’s sensory issues, cut hip don’t work, so we have to find other ways to bring about structure. But I would like persons to be slightly more understanding, and rather than staring at me while we’re in the grocery store, ask me questions,” she said. “This is our normal.”

Autism doesn’t come with a manual, but rather families of those people diagnosed on the spectrum, never give up, and it’s those families that encouraged people to “blue it up” this month in recognition of Autism Awareness Month.

ASD refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, autism today affects an estimated one in 59 children in the United States; 16 years ago the statistic was one in every 150 children; then it went to one in every 99; but now the prevalence is one in every 59 children.

Autism can be manifested in language, speech, social skills and behavior.

Lifestyles Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Shavaughn Mossjoined The Nassau Guardianas a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor.Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics.
Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.
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