Annie Eskeldson is a native Nebraskan who has lived in Kansas for more than a decade. Much of that time has been spent providing therapy for and homeschooling her autistic daughter, Ashli-Meghan, who goes by Ashi for short.
"I knew Ashi was special when she was born. She liked being held and nursed, but this 'socialness' was only to fulfill her needs and then she was done with me. It sounds like a typical new infant, but I knew different. She had her own agenda and she was not interested in giving anything back...yet."
By 16 months, Ashli-Meghan was diagnosed with autism. Luckily, Annie had always been able to stay at home with Ashi and work with her in special ways. "I am a scientist at heart, very analytical and observant. Combining this with a very experienced pediatrician, it's easy to see how we were able to get an answer so early on." But, this would only be the beginning of a journey down a difficult road.
"We were just steered in all the wrong directions. The 'help' we received in the beginning was abysmal. Initially we were led to programs through early childhood intervention programs. What we found where 'therapists' who told us that Ashi's IQ was low, that she'd never read, write, talk, or fit in. My gut feelings and instincts were against these people and I didn't like the 'scare' tactic they were using. I threw their reports in the garbage and followed my instincts."
"It was clear that I would be the one to provide Ashi's therapy and so my husband and I got busy doing armloads of research. It was shocking to find that I had already been doing therapy just by instinct and common sense. Some therapies I came up with on my own, but there was also alot we had to purchase. When I realized that we had actually been providing round the clock therapy all along, I was so relieved. Therapy became our lifestyle instead of just something performed once or twice a week at an office. Ashi and I worked through everything: tapping, flapping, echolalia, meltdowns, communication delays, speech, fine motor skills, behavioral issues, sensory issues, toileting, food issues, you name it, we worked day in and day out, tackling each and every issue, letting nothing slide."
Fast forward more than 7 years and you will see an autist who is thriving. Much of Ashi's autism has been reversed and today she is very high functioning. She is highly intelligent, a very advanced reader and speller, very imaginative, enjoys art and percussion. She is social, fun, silly and an 'A' student. "Therapy is still so much incorporated into our lives. We really don't 'perform' it, we just 'live' it. We have really been homeschooling since Ashi was about 2. She could read by then, but was non-verbal until the age of 4. Of course, today, you can't get her to be quiet!" She can do all the things Annie and her husband were told she'd never do.
"I never doubted that we would make these strides. I got deep into Ashi's world to discover what was going on, and, I stayed there. I learned that wearing clothes hurt her; lights and sounds were painful. I learned that she's so picky about her eating because of oral sensory issues and her need for security. I learned how much she relates to animals, that she loves water, and that self-stimming brings her so much comfort. I learned what makes her happy, what scares her. I attached therapy to her strengths, to things she obsessed over and activities she enjoyed, and later, applied these to her weaknesses. Ultimately my little girl and I began to walk out of autism and leave much of it behind."
Ashi inspired me to write children's books for families coping with autism. My books are unique with an autistic character children can relate to and they nurture the parent who is reading the book aloud. I also include self-discovery type tips. Both books, Ashi's Gift and sequel, Ashi: In a Class all by Myself, are true, heartwarming stories. My third book is currently being illustrated by Susan Sader and is titled, Ashi's Birthday and Other Dreaded Days. This book is helpful in teaching others
what holidays are like for autists. Look for this book around Christmas time.