By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
The month of April has been designated as Autism Acceptance Month. According to National Today, Autism Acceptance Month “aims to celebrate and promote acceptance for the condition.” The Autism Society “recognizes that the prevalence of autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 54 in 2020.” Autism is a complex lifelong developmental disability that develops in children at a young age and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, self-regulation, and relationships.
Dametra Skinner knows all about life with autism as she and her husband raised their son, Anfernee Skinner, who was on the autism spectrum. When they first learned of their son’s diagnosis, they were not shocked. “We kind of already knew “because we had testing done before he was born,” Skinner stated.
As he got older, her son was “hitting all of his developmental milestones,” but was having issues with communicating. She stated, “I always knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know what it was.” When she took him to see his doctor, the doctor said nothing was wrong with him, so she took him to another doctor and kept asking questions. When they learned of the official diagnosis, the focus was now on how to help him and how to handle the challenges they were going to face.
One of the biggest obstacles that Skinner has had to deal with is dealing with people who didn’t understand her son because he was different. “Because he couldn’t talk and communicate, he would act out. Everyone else was stating that this was typical behavior of a toddler, but I knew something was wrong.” His lack of communication caused him to act out and have behavioral problems.
To help her son communicate, she started educating herself on how to teach him to say small words like cup or thirsty. “He had a very good understanding but did not have good expressive language,” Skinner expressed. When he started elementary school, some issues started to arise such as standardized testing. Standardized testing was overwhelming for him due to reading. Reading had always been a struggle for him because he was not fluent. With this in mind, Skinner took out cassette tapes and books and started to work with him and got him to read.” Even though he struggled with reading, he excelled in math and science. According to Skinner, math was “his thing.”
Another issue they had with the elementary school was access to resources. Anfernee needed speech and occupational therapy. At that time, services like those were not covered under insurance and he “spent ten years in speech therapy and saw 25 speech therapists during that time.” Since Anfernee was not considered autistic but on the autistic spectrum, they could not get all the services they needed.
In addition, socialization was still an issue as he was not communicating and not making friends. “It is hard as a parent to watch your child not have friends or not have a lot of people around.” So, Skinner and her husband moved their son to The Joy School for the 4th grade, which was a school for children with learning differences. “They had a speech pathologist and just worked with them. They also did not have grade levels but worked with kids and their abilities.” Anfernee did well at The Joy School. “He loved it, he thrived, he was able to make friends and communicate. I didn’t even know he could draw until he went to this school.” At The Joy School, they were also introduced to technology and programs that could help him type and read. “It was amazing. He was able to do his work and thrive,” Skinner stated.
When discussing the negative perceptions surrounding autism within the African American community, Skinner mentioned how we don’t talk about it enough and we don’t know much about it. “I had to literally educate myself because there is not a group for us.” In addition, there are stereotypes within society that makes autism seem like it’s a bad thing as well as how some people are in denial about the diagnosis and rather not “talk about it,” or “accept it.”
Skinner and her husband embraced the diagnosis and did what they had to do for their child so that he could succeed and reach his fullest potential. “It was never about me, I can survive in society,” Skinner stated. The question that she and her husband had to ask themselves was, “What did we need to do in order to equip our kids to be able to survive on their own?” This was the mission they set out to accomplish. They needed Anfernee to be self-sufficient and for him to know that they wouldn’t live forever.
For new parents, or parents who may have autistic children, Skinner’s advice is to pray, become knowledgeable of the resources available to you, learn your legal rights, and to surround yourself with a great support system. She also wants them to know that they’re not alone. “Just know that you’re not by yourself, there are more kids out there like Anfernee than people think.”
Anfernee has beaten so many odds that were against him. Doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to do many things like play organized sports or that school would be too difficult for him. Unbeknownst to them, Anfernee Skinner graduated from Cypress Christian High School in 2015. He then received his Associates of Science in Computer Science from Lone Star College-Tomball. In December 2021, he graduated from Marilyn Davies College of Business at the University of Houston Downtown with honors, (Cum Laude) receiving his Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems. Just recently, he received his first job offer at Lone Star College-University Park and will begin working there next week. Skinner concluded stating, “I am so proud that he has a job and will eventually be able to take care of himself. I totally believe that he’s going to be okay.”