Founded on faith and led by inclusion, our mission is to provide the strongest support, community and hope for those touched by autism. All funds raised by Autism Strong are mindfully donated to our community in the way that will make the greatest impact; connecting families and children to the resources they desperately need.
ASF is built upon four core values that drive us in all that we do. While we believe everyone has the strength mentally and physically to face any challenge life throws at them, we believe that having these four key components aids you tremendously and makes you Autism Strong.
We believe everyone is created in a unique and beautiful way and should be accepted and celebrated as individuals. Acceptance is demonstrated through the genuine interaction, advocacy, and appreciation of one another, regardless of any differences in mind, body, or opinion you may have.
We believe everyone has the right to be encouraged in loving environment. Encouragement is demonstrated through the words, hugs, and cheers both in times of success and struggle.
We believe everyone benefits when they have a faith as their foundation. Faith is demonstrated through the belief in what you cannot see yet having contentment and confidence that your journey has a purpose.
We believe everyone who has hope will triumph over any circumstance they face. Hope is demonstrated through the unwavering determination and conviction that our future is brighter than any current situation, and for those with autism, hope for a cure.
In 2007, Rudy and I decided we were ready to add to our family. We already had a beautiful 18-month-old daughter, Alyssa and we wanted to give her a sibling. Little did we know that we wouldn’t be giving her just one sibling, but two. I was 7 weeks pregnant when the doctor told me we were having twins. He informed me it was only a 1% chance because twins did not run in our family. We were shocked and overwhelmed but soon realized it was a miracle.
Fast forward to March 2008. Complications happened and the twins were born 8 weeks early via emergency C-section and were rushed to the NICU. They stayed at the hospital for 5 weeks in the NICU with constant care of oxygen, heart monitors and IVs. Landon seem to struggle more than his sister, Addison but they were released at the same time. We were finally able to bring them home to join their older sister.
Through that first year, Landon did wonderful. He was surpassing his sister in growth and development. He would flirt with the ladies and laugh all the time. He was quite the social boy. That all changed between 12-18 months. We didn’t know what to think. The doctor tried to convince us that Landon was just a boy and that boys tended to slow down a bit in development. We knew something wasn’t right. We thought maybe he lost his hearing because he stopped responding to his name. He wouldn’t look at us and would sit in one spot for an hour staring nowhere and at nothing.
We had his hearing tested, it came back perfect. We had his vision tested, again perfect. That’s when I started to have a sinking feeling that maybe this was something much more.
November 17th, 2009 – the day everything changed.
We took Landon to see a Neurologist at the University of Michigan. In mere hours, the doctor informed us that Landon had ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. The news didn’t stop there. He also informed us if Landon didn’t speak by the time he was four, then most likely he would never speak.
Broken hearted and confused, we rode home in silence. We weren’t even sure what autism was. We had friends in New York that had a son with autism, but that was as far as our knowledge went. Rudy and I skipped over the denial phase and went straight into action. We put Landon into OT, PT and speech therapy. Landon didn’t walk until he was two years old and had no play skills what so ever. It became very overwhelming and decided we needed help from family so we moved to North Carolina to be surrounded by family.
It was here, we learned about a therapy called ABA, Applied Behavioral Analysis. It is the most effective therapy for children with autism but also the most expensive. We spent two years, countless hours and phone calls, fighting with insurance to have his therapy covered before we finally succeeded. We went straight into 20 hours of therapy.
We were quickly approaching his fourth birthday and still he was saying no words. We remembered what the neurologist had said and starting to worry. What if he didn’t speak…ever? But God had control of the situation and his preschool teacher came out in tears a few days before his birthday and said, ‘Landon spelled out the word COW today and we caught it on camera!’. We cried together in the parking lot and shared it with all our friends and family.
Five years later and Landon still continues to amaze us. He has to work so hard at simple tasks, the things that come so easily to most children. Things like responding to his name, holding a pencil, learning how to say, “Hi” to someone and look them in the eye while saying it.
Now, at age 9, Landon isn’t considered verbal, but has learned to be echoic with one to two words. Our life has changed so much since receiving that devastating news back in November of 2009. Ideas of what our family would look like don’t exist anymore. We can’t take family vacations on a whim, our lives revolve around him having therapy, we can’t ask him how his day was, there aren’t playdates for him or birthday parties.
But for anyone that has had the opportunity to meet Landon, knows that they have met an angel. He may not be able to speak or communicate in the traditional sense, but he does in his own way. He doesn’t need words to have a lasting effect on you.
What does the future hold for Landon? We don’t know.
Our family has based our faith in God and we know Landon was given to us for a reason. He has opened our eyes to so much and whatever he may or may not be able to do when he is older is okay with us. We still carry the hope that he will be able to tell us how his day went or say ‘Hi Daddy’ when Rudy walks through the door. We still feel there will be a day when he realizes he has sisters and will want to play with them.
Life isn’t all peaches and cream.
We have days of doubt and frustration. We have days when we wonder how we can keep going or why this happened to him. To witness Landon change from a happy toddler with endless possibilities to the lights going out in his mind, was nothing less than devastating. We have a picture in our hallway that we look at almost daily that shows Landon before autism. It still brings tears to our eyes.
He is our son. We love him for who he is and no matter what, we will always have faith and hope:
Hope for Landon.
Hope for autism.
Hope for a cure.
Written by Becky Thoms, Landon’s Mom and Co-Founder of Autism Strong