Autism education and support is goal of local family
WESTON — Throughout the month of April, the staff of Mon Health System encourages the public to learn more about autism, one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the United States. Supporting, educating, and advocating for autistic individuals will make a difference in the lives of the patients the System serves.
Dennis and Samantha Ribeiro Matos both have firsthand knowledge of the disability. Both of their sons, four-year-old Oscar, and two-and-a-half-year-old Lucas, are autistic.
As well as learning more about autism to better understand their sons, the couple have been campaigning to educate the public about autism. Samantha’s mother, Donna Snyder, a long-time employee at Mon Health Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital, in Weston, also advocates for her grandsons.
“I feel It is important to educate the staff and public about the challenges you face when interacting with an autistic person. When dealing with a child, we need to be calm and soothing with them. No bright lights, no loud noises can be used,” said Donna. “Their caretaker will lead you to what the child responds to. My daughter and son-in-law have done a tremendous job in learning about autism to make their sons’ world happier and safer. I am very proud of the whole family.”
Samantha explained that as both boys were growing, they were hitting their normal milestones in their well-child visits…until they weren’t. Both were diagnosed around the age of 18 months.
Both Oscar and Lucas are considered non-verbal, which is why routine is so important for their family. Their sensory needs differ significantly. While Oscar’s sensory need is oral, often chewing on items, Lucas’ need is joint stimulation. He enjoys jumping on things, like bouncing on the couch.
In the family’s effort to educate the public, Samantha asks for understanding.
“If you see a child in the grocery store having a meltdown, it might not be what we would describe as ‘misbehaving.’ I was guilty of that in the past,” explained Samantha. “Now I know that for my sons, a change in environment can be very difficult for them. They could easily have a meltdown at the store because of a different environment. The public has to realize that these are not ‘bad children.’ They just find it hard to process in a different environment.”
Despite the large number of children diagnosed with autism (one in 42 boys, and one in 189 girls), there is a terrible lack of services available.
Samantha noted, “We had Oscar on a waiting list for over a year for service. There is a great need for counselors and programs. Oscar is now seen by a group in Morgantown which has been wonderful and very thorough. They teach the children how to function and learn the skills which they need to become as independent as possible.”
Oscar also has services through the local board of education and Lucas is in the “Birth to Three” program through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Both Oscar and Lucas require supervision which requires an enormous amount of pre-planning.
“You can’t get any babysitter in a normal way. If my husband and I are planning to go out, it requires someone who can understand my sons. Family members are always wonderful for those roles. Then you have to plan for backup in case something happens with the first baby sitter, you have to plan for unknown circumstances,” Samantha said.
Samantha and her family continue to work hard at bringing awareness and acceptance to autistic people in our community.
“It may seem hard for our situation for people on the outside. But for myself and my family, we would not change anything for the world, though it is hard on the boys, we love them so much.”
About Mon Health System: Mon Health System is an integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient centers and hospitals in North Central West Virginia that works together to make health care more accessible and affordable to the communities it serves. It includes four hospitals — its flagship, Mon Health Medical Center in Morgantown; Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital in Kingwood; Mon Health Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston; affiliate, Grafton City Hospital in Grafton; Mon Health Equipment & Supplies in Morgantown, Fairmont, and Weston; and The Village at Heritage Point. Mon Health System is also part of many Joint Ventures such as Healthworks, Acuity Hospital of Morgantown, Monongalia EMS, Amedisys Hospice, Care Partners, Encompass and the Mon Health Center for Outpatient Surgery to preserve choice, improve access and ensure the highest quality of care. For more information, visit monhealth.com.