“If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.”
Tommy is so happy to share his story with others, and we are thrilled to know that Tommy’s online presence contributes to new understandings of autism, and makes other feel they have a new friend with Autism! When we have a friend different from us, we gain a new perspective. We see the world through a new lens, and embrace diversity and celebrate difference. We are so glad to know you’ve joined Tommy and his journey!
Tommy was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years of age. He walked at 8 months, and was always very physically active and unstoppable- climbing, exploring, and jumping on his trampoline! He was always very determined, able, and cheerful, provided he was able to follow his own agenda! He loved trains, and liked to line things up, one of the earliest signs of his Autism.
His brother Paul, two years older, was always a wonderful brother and friend to him. His grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, friends, speech language pathologists, workers and teachers were, and still are, also a huge support to Tommy, and his parents. Picture symbols (PECS), Disney videos, books, and many computer programs such as KidWorks and Living Books CDroms all helped Tommy at an early age.
However, at age 5, he was still non verbal, and professionals said he was unlikely to ever speak. His meltdowns, which always resulted from communication breakdowns, were intense and frequent, involving much self injury. At this point, Tommy’s family took him to Los Angeles for one month of ABA therapy, as it was not yet available in Canada, and they had tried everything available to Tommy in Ottawa. The ABA therapists there also felt he was unlikely to speak, due to his Dyspraxia.
But the written word was a huge strength for Tommy, and through the use of pictures as a communication system (PECS), books, and computer he began to read and type many words before he spoke! Although he had spoken very occasional words, he remained mainly non verbal until about age 7, when very gradually began to speak, yet the words came slowly. The Eureka moment when he discovered the subtitles on his DVD Disney movies at age 8 led to a new phase where his movies helped him develop even more language. His speech continued to grow and change, very slowly, throughout the rest of his childhood and teen years, as he worked to overcome his dyspraxia (difficulty with the motor control involved in producing speech). But the fact that Tommy could read and type words before he could speak was very important- the written word has supported his ability to learn to speak, over time. And, amazingly, the Disney movies’ subtitles truly helped him learn language. We are grateful to Disney for the gift of language the movies have brought to Tommy throughout his life.
These movies also satisfied Tommy’s love of stories. Tommy’s imagination is incredible, and he began dictating or typing his own stories at age 8, when he still could not speak in sentences yet. He filled dozens of binders with his stories over the years.
At age 13, in 2005, he began dictating about his life in a blog www.tommytales.livejournal.com, until beginning to use Facebook in 2008 at age 16, which he now enjoys immensely. He also discovered YouTube and asked to have videos about his life posted there, so we created his channel, “lookyus” in 2006. Tommy now has friends all over the world who found him on YouTube, and friended him on Facebook. Tommy’s language and social skills continue to grow, helped by technology and all the amazing, wonderful friends he shares his life with daily.
We are working on preparing videos from Tommy’s childhood to upload to his YouTube channel soon. These videos show how Tommy’s Autism progressed through the years. Check back in the New Year!