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Kids speak out for autistic siblings
Kids speak out for autistic siblings
By SUE HOFFMAN
Eleven-year-old Alex Eiben, a fifth-grader at St. Joan of Arc School in Chagrin Falls, beamed with pride as he talked about his younger brother, Jack, age 9.
"He doesn't speak well," he said, but he can remember every word of a television show. "He's good at the Sponge Bob game." Alex recalled how, at Christmas 2005, Jack uttered his first word. "He said, 'Yea, yea,' when he got his favorite things -- a reader and a video game," he said.
"I want people to understand what he's saying, not to make fun of him," said Alex, whose family lives in Auburn.
Alex, along with fourth-graders Margaux Augier and Sophia Irvin, have siblings with autism. They said it's important that people understand the disorder.
Like all the other students in the school, they wore puzzle pins April 1 that symbolize Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy organization. The group aims to find autism's causes, prevention, treatment and cure.
"Mom made the pins for the whole school," Sophia, 9, of Auburn, said.
"Their parents asked if we could do Autism Awareness Day," Principal Shelley DiBacco said. Since Autism Awareness Day fell on Saturday, April 2, the school's observance took place on Friday. Earlier in the school year, St. Joan of Arc students and staff contributed donations to a fundraiser for autism.
Mrs. DiBacco said the percentage of children affected by autism continues to climb.
Autism Speaks estimates that one in 110 children is diagnosed with autism and that 1.5 million individuals in the United States have the disorder. The organization defines autism as being in a group of pervasive developmental disorders. Many parents call it "autism spectrum disorder," which reflects different levels of severity.
"We want to show people what it means," Alex said. One time Jack shouted out and people laughed at him, he said. "I stood up for him."
Their siblings often say words repeatedly and wave their hands, Alex, Margaux and Sophia said.
"They don't know the causes or the cure for autism," said Sophia, whose brother, Miles, 6, attends kindergarten at Gardiner Early Learning Center in the Kenston School District.
"It's like a mystery," said Margaux, 9, of South Russell, who has three brothers with autism. "You have to put the pieces together, and there are pieces missing."
Margaux's brothers, Marcel, 12 and twins Christophe and Henri, 11, attend the Cleveland Clinic's program for autism.
Margaux has something special that she does with each one of them, she said. She plays tag with Marcel, plays board games with Christophe and watches television with Henri.
Helping the boys is Parker, a Labrador retriever-poodle mix, or Labradoodle, provided to the family by Working Animals Giving Service for Kids, of Berea. Margaux's mother, Sophia, brought Parker and Christophe into school last week to show students the importance of the boys' canine helper.
"He was the calmest dog we have ever met," said Alex, whose golden Labrador retriever, Tug, is helpful to Jack. Tug nudges Jack when he repeats too much, he said.
Alex recalled the fun times he's had with Jack, who attends the Geauga County Educational Service Center's Specialized Teaching for Children With Autism and Resource Services program. "I try to play with him every day," he said. They haven't had a fight in many years, "and I want to keep it that way," he said.
The children said that neighbors and friends have been supportive. "Everyone understands Jack and likes him," Alex said.
"The neighbor kids are good with Miles," Sophia said.
The students said they have all noticed the progress their siblings are making.
Even before he started school, "he could do math I couldn't do," Sophia said, and now he's reading second-grade books.
"My brother listens to a TV show one time and then goes on the computer and listens to it over and over," Alex said. When their family was on a cruise, "we jumped in the pool and pretended we were in a storm and we kept laughing," he said.
Sophia recalled a similar incident when they were in Florida. She and Miles kept jumping in the pool and acting silly, she said.
"I like talking to them and understanding what they're trying to tell you," Margaux said about her brothers. Then she recalled a funny time, when the rain flooded the sandbox and attracted a number of frogs. The boys picked up the frogs and put them on their heads, she said. "I sat on the slide watching."
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