“You just kind of have to figure out how to work with their needs instead of against them; kind of accept this is how your life is going to be,” said Barlow.
That’s something Barlow figured out early on with her oldest son, who began to lose the few words he could say at 13 months and was increasingly sensitive to noise.
“I remember him putting his hands over his ears when everyone was laughing very loudly,” said Barlow.
April is Autism Acceptance Month, and as the rate of autism continues to rise in children, Barlow encourages early intervention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 36 children has autism, based on data from 2020.
Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed, however many children are not diagnosed until around the age of 4, despite the role an earlier evaluation and diagnosis can have for a child’s development.
Barlow was pregnant with Oliver when she suspected Johnny was on the spectrum. He was diagnosed at 2 years old.
“It was very overwhelming,” said Barlow. “How am I going to take care of a newborn and all of Johnny’s needs? Was this my fault? What did I do? It was more depression and blaming myself with him. But when I got to Oliver, I think that I knew enough and prepared myself enough. I was like, ‘I know what to do.'”
Both boys go to applied behavior analysis therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism several days a week and are consistently making strides, Barlow said. Oliver, who is also on the spectrum, is verbal and was able to start therapy six months earlier than his older brother, who is nonverbal and also shows signs of growth.
“Every month he has crushed his goals and gotten new goals, which is pretty unusual and pretty exciting,” said Barlow about her oldest son. “She showed me his charts the other day. Sometimes it is a little slower of a climb, but it never dips. It always keeps going up.”
Barlow said therapy early on made all the difference in her boy’s abilities and she encourages other parents to trust their own judgment and seek intervention if they believe their child may be on the spectrum.
“Trust your mom instincts,” she said. “You know your kids better than anybody. You know if something is different.”
Barlow plans to be evaluated to see if perhaps she is also on the spectrum.
“There’s a good chance because we know a lot more about autism and it’s not what we thought it was, even when I was a kid, that I may also be autistic,” Barlow said. “Even for them to be like, ‘I’m just like my mom.’ I think it will make them feel less alone.”
She said society has become more accepting of people on the spectrum and she is hopeful her boys have a bright future ahead.
“I don’t know what they are capable of, but I’m excited to find out with them,” Barlow said.