Intolerance of others has been the hardest part of our journey. Junior high years brought episodes of students taunting Jeremy that only got worse in high school. I would watch from a distance the treatment my son endured, treated like he was invisible. He would run up to a group of teens excited to share stories from the past summer recess only to have their noses turned up as they looked in other directions. It wasn’t cool talking to someone that displayed differences.
Every morning we would have our family devotional time, reading scripture and saying our morning prayer. As I dropped Jeremy off at school, I would remind him “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Every day I would tell Jeremy to hold his head high and to be proud of his gifts and talents that God blessed him with. Teenage years are difficult, but add challenges of a disability to the formula; it starts to break the spirit down.
Jeremy had been on medications for autism for 10 years. As he got older, he could sense his differences. Teenage years brought depression and anger. Jeremy hated being autistic; he didn’t like the way his brain worked. He didn’t like how his social and emotional development was behind his peers; he could see the gap getting bigger and bigger. He was smart enough to figure this out on his own. Jeremy was challenged by the other students on a regular basis because they understood his low impulse control.
Asking for a Miracle
After one suspension from high school, I decided to get on my knees to ask God for a miracle. “Is this as good as it gets, Lord? I can’t stand watching my child suffer anymore and I don’t know what to do. He can’t seem to grasp the tools we have tried to teach him over the years to handle conflict. There has got to be something better. His medications seem to be working less and less. There’s got to be another option, Lord. Please help us. Speak through the doctor and lead him to Your answer.”
I then got dressed to see Jeremy’s pediatrician to discuss alternative treatments. Jeremy’s pediatrician was a Godly man at our small community hospital and let Jeremy remain as a patient for as long as he wanted. As I sat in Dr. J’s office, I tried to control my crying. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” I told him. “I don’t want Jeremy on medications any more; I don’t even know what he looks like anymore since he has been chemically dependent for the past 10 years.”
An Alternative Treatment
Dr. J shared with me that he had heard positive things about an alternative treatment, but really didn’t know much about it, called neurofeedback therapy. He directed me to give the feedback doctor a call to have it all explained to me. I figured a nontraditional method would mean driving to a metropolitan area at least 300 miles away. I was then shocked to hear that this doctor was in the next community only 45 minutes a way. At this point, I was ready to try anything as long as it was safe for Jeremy.
It’s hard to put into words the miracle that unfolded right before our eyes. Neurofeedback therapy is a treatment in which electrodes are administered to the brain in a very safe way to retrain the brain making new pathways. The lobes in autistic people don’t communicate; neurofeedback woke Jeremy’s brain up causing the lobes to communicate. Is this possible, I thought.
We couldn’t believe the changes that took place over the next eight months as Jeremy’s brain responded quickly. All of Jeremy’s educational team that included his speech and language therapist, his behavioral therapist, and his teachers could not believe the changes. Jeremy started to initiate conversations with eye contact. His face looked different as if to be relaxed. He started to stand up straight with confidence and walked around town with a smile on his face. Tools were kicking in that he had been taught over several years; conflict resolution, impulse control, perspective taking, on-topic conversations and all without medication.
Individuals with autism don’t do well with abstracts. After neurofeedback, God became more concrete to Jeremy. We could all see divine intervention including Jeremy. At the age of 17, Jeremy accepted Christ as his Savior and decided to be baptized. He could feel the difference walking with Christ. Jeremy decided to travel 300 miles away from home for four weeks to live with my mother in order to participate in the Escondido SDA summer internship program. This was the first time he left home as people with autism don’t like change in routines. Divine intervention.
Documenting Our Journey
The Lord put on my heart to share our story. I had no film experience, but decided to document our journey on film. I bought a camcorder and film editing software program. Each time I sat at the computer to edit our journey, I prayed for the Lord’s guidance to show me how He wanted this all to look. Divine intervention.
It took me three years to complete my project and released “JJ’s Journey, A Journey about Autism” April 2008 in honor of National Autism Awareness Month. Later that year, I was convinced by a friend to enter my documentary into a film festival. If accepted, I figured our story could raise more autism awareness. From over 200 film submissions worldwide, only a quarter was accepted; mine was an official selection. Divine intervention.
I didn’t win awards, but Jeremy reminded me of the reasons we wanted to produce this film. “Mom, remember we did this to help others and to provide hope not to win awards.” The exposure was amazing; the film was shown twice.
Jeremy is medication free now for almost three years and he is the highest functioning he has ever been. He just completed his first quarter of college successfully at a nearby community college. He took a full load of classes without modifications. The other day, Jeremy said to me “Mom, I’m glad I’m autistic.” I asked him why. He responded, “Because it makes me special.” Divine intervention.
To learn more about the documentary “JJ’s Journey, A Journey about Autism,” visit www.autismjourney.net. To view a NBC interview with Lori and Jeremy.
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