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A smile enough

Owen Adams swings while his mother Elizabeth and sister Emmerson enjoy a day at the park. The Bossier City family is using sign language to overcome Owen’s autism.

Family learning to communicate with son despite autism’s barriers

Six-year-old Owen Adams has a smile that’s brighter than the Louisiana sun.

His parents, Ed and Elizabeth Adams of Bossier City, say his sweet, loving nature makes him the light of their life. Owen’s four-year-old sister, Emmerson, adores her big brother, whom she calls “Bubba,” too.

Behind his bright eyes and curly hair, though, is a mysterious disorder that his parents are still uncovering. He doesn’t say much, but Owen’s smile often is enough.

Elizabeth had a normal pregnancy, delivery and was very excited about welcoming the couple’s first child to the world. Around the two year mark, however, pediatricians noticed some red flags – Owen’s language hadn’t developed as it should and all verbal communication he formed up to that point was lost.

“The words that he had developed were gone,” she explained. “By the time he was two, he just stopped talking. The doctor didn’t say autism right away, but that’s what she suspected.”

After seeing several specialists, they all came to the same conclusion – it was, in fact, autism. For the Adams, Owen’s diagnosis was a moment of relief that turned into feelings of uncertainty.

“I’m pretty sure we had heard of it, but we didn’t know about the challenges that came with it,” Ed said. “We turned to God when times were tough and have continued to pray through the years for answers and guidance.”

That’s when the Lord opened their eyes and hearts to the Educational Center for Autism in Shreveport. Located inside the Shreveport Community Church, the center’s mission is to help educate and shape children’s futures through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The program’s overall goal is to help lead children, like Owen, to live productive lives and for their true personalities to shine through. Kelly Rouse, Director of the Educational Center for Autism and behavior analyst, said the center began seven years ago after the church saw a need in the community for this particular service.

Rouse said it was a decision that the church felt the Lord called them to do. Since then, the school has become a place for children to find their voice again.

The Adams family now uses sign language to communicate with Owen, but his verbal skills are a work in progress.

“His language is coming [back],” Elizabeth said. “He’s starting to talk again and that’s something we were told he would never do.”

“It’s just amazing what they do,” Ed added.

The Educational Center for Autism will host their fourth annual Walk a Mile in Our Shoes: Autism 5K & Carnival event Saturday, April 5, at Shreveport Community Church, 5720 Buncombe Rd. in Shreveport.

“This will be a day to celebrate kids,” Rouse said. “Not everyone likes to run a 5k, but we’ve made this into something the whole family can enjoy. This is a really good way for us to bring together the community and raise awareness about what parents with autistic children are facing every day.”

The event is expected to draw in more than 1,000 attendees. Not only will it have fun activities for the family, but there will be educational opportunities with community partners.

Ed said they will absolutely be participating in Saturday’s event. Their hope is that the event will raise awareness in the community and also send a message – to look past the diagnosis and see the child for who they are.

“These kids are capable of doing the same things as normal developing children do, they just learn it in a different way,” Elizabeth added. “This school has helped him make sense of his world. We are thankful for having this kind of resource right here in our backyard.”

Proceeds from the 5k and carnival will go directly to the children who utilize services provided by the Educational Center for Autism.

“We’ve seen the light of hope through the Lord’s work and I think we are the hope for a lot of families,” Rouse said. “It’s a lot of hard work, initially, but the progress that comes with it is priceless.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data in March 2014 that shows 1 in 68 children in the United States (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Rouse said it’s important for the public to know that these statistics are a calling to become more involved with the cause.

“The truth is even if you’re not directly affected by someone on the spectrum now, chances are they will be in the future,” Rouse said.

As the world celebrates Autism Awareness Day and dedicate the entire month of April to promoting Autism Awareness, supporters and educators continue the work God placed on their hearts many years ago. That means a brighter future for children just like Owen Adams.

“Owen is an incredible little boy. Every single day is like chipping away at a shell and we’re seeing more and more of who Owen was designed by the Lord to be,” Rouse said. “Every day is like a brand new day.”

For more information on the Autism Awareness 5k and Carnival, visit www.sportspectrumusa.com or call (318) 671-7100. Registration will be available on Saturday for those wanting to participate in the 5k and fun run.

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.