Autism: Gretchen Wilson & Sean Ashley's Story
By Gretchen Wilson
When my grandson was four years old, we went through a very difficult time. He is both autistic and blind, and I really thought placement in a foster home would help me to care for him and keep him safe while I dealt with a few situations. Unfortunately I was wrong. In foster care, he was neglected. He looked like a starving war orphan with a distended belly – he was chubby before.
So I took pictures, went to the judge, and he had Sean at the courthouse within two hours and I was able to take him home. The attorney advised me to put Sean in a state institution, stating that I was young and needed a life of my own. Sean’s case worker said that she was placing him in a state institution because he was a vegetable, that he did not talk, and threw fits. I told her “over my dead body”.
When Sean was small, he had tactile issues and ate mostly bread type foods. He now eats almost everything. He loves milk a lot, but would never drink water. I started mixing whole milk with water, just to get some water into him. Once, I accidentally bought 2% milk and he would not touch it, even with no water in it. He would make an angry sound and shove it away.
To help him with his memory skills, I would sing songs and then leave a blank for Sean to fill in. He knew every word I left blank!!! I also used a drum beat to modulate his language. I would put his hand over my mouth so that he could feel how I said the words.
In fact, he still loves to do that, even at 29 years old, especially when we are in the car. Sean has enough language now to let one know just about everything he wants and has a great memory. His mobility skills are great; it’s like he has a sensory antenna in his head.
I founded The Sean Ashley House in 1994 so that I could be assured that he would always have a happy, loving and safe environment, even when I could no longer care for him. He now thinks his last name is House. If someone says “Sean Ashley”, he adds the “House”.
When I founded the House, I made sure to offer the services that autistic children need. He now loves swimming, music, horse riding therapy, dancing, using the treadmill… and I could go on. He loves to go up and down my stairs, and the minute he gets into my car, he doesn’t stop saying “hamburger” until we finally stop to get one.
Now when I bring him home for weekends, after about 24 hours, he starts saying “Sean Ashley House.” This makes me feel so very good that he loves his home. I’m at peace now when I think about what will happen to him when I can’t take care of him any longer.
Everyone, even the court system and social workers, needs to be educated on autism!!!!
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