First lady recognizes Autism Awareness Month
Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 00:04
For West Virginia University first lady Beth Clements, the issue of autism and other developmental disorders is one that hits close to home.
The WVU chapter of Autism Speaks U invited Clements to speak during the organization’s last meeting of the semester as part of its Autism Awareness Month celebration.
Clements, wife of WVU President James P. Clements, said the couple noticed early that their daughter, Grace, was not developing normally. The doctor continued to tell the Clements’ Grace would catch up, but Beth said her maternal instincts left her questioning.
"Gracie is perfect in my eyes, but the reality of the situation was less than perfect at first," she said.
Grace was diagnosed with Apraxia, a neurological disorder limiting her ability to speak.
Beth said she was angry, in denial and upset when she first learned Grace’s diagnosis, and worried Grace would never get to experience certain things, but eventually learned to accept her daughter’s condition.
She formed a support group with other mothers who have children with disabilities.
"We read ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ bonded, laughed more and cried less," Beth said.
Grace is now 12 years old, happy and has high self-esteem, Beth said, and surprises their family every day with the progress she makes.
"As I saw doors closing, God began to open windows for me through this experience," she said. "Gracie is the defining part of our family in the absolute best ways possible."
Beth said her family is more compassionate, loving and closer because of Grace. The Clements’ have three other children; Tyler, 20, and two twin girls, Hannah and Maggie, 17.
Beth said although her daughter’s condition has posed some challenges for her family, her experience with Grace has been extremely rewarding.
"We’re all more alike than we are different," Beth said. "I love my daughter just like your mothers love you – we’re normal."
Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The disorders are characterized in varying degrees by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Autism Speaks U is a nationwide program designed to provide a platform for college students to host autism awareness, advocacy and fundraising events.
The amount of children diagnosed with autism has increased in recent years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly one in 88 American children are estimated to be on the autism spectrum.
Kasia Bryant, president of WVU’s chapter of Autism Speaks U, said she started the organization during the fall semester and is very passionate about autism. Her younger brother suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.
"I’ve seen other schools do things concerning autism awareness, and I never actually saw anything here, so that’s why I wanted to start the Autism Speaks U organization here at WVU," Bryant said.
Students can learn more about Autism Speaks U at WVU and view upcoming events by visiting its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/autismspeaksuwvu. To learn more about the Autism Speaks national organization, visit www.autismspeaks.org.