This is My Son

This is My Son

Belinda’s story. She is 42.

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Gabriel, my 13-year-old son, has been a better gift than I could have ever imagined.

All my children are fantastic. They’re all gifts in different ways. And they’re all special to each other. It’s been a blessing to be their mother.

But Gabe has shown me how strong I am, how great my family is, how wonderful and blessed we are to live in a community that cares so much about their neighbors.

Autism has brought me to the classroom, but my love for my son, my Gabe, has forced me to make a difference in the community I call home.

When he was a little boy, Gabe was the happiest baby you’d ever know. We called him our golden child. He’d smile and laugh. He was perfect.

But as he was growing up, especially when I realized he wasn’t listening to me when I called his name or when he wasn’t speaking by the time he was two-years-old, I knew something was different.

Something wasn’t wrong with my son. Something was different.

I’m a faith based person, and thank God I am.

The drives to Riley Hospital for Children, traveling back and forth from Muncie, wondering what was going on with my son, would’ve driven me crazy without God.

Especially when I couldn’t get any answers.

Well, at first, I did get answers, but they weren’t the right ones.

First, I was told my Gabe heard things, but as if we were all speaking underwater.

Then, I was told he was mildly mentally handicapped.

But I knew my boy. These diagnoses didn’t fit. These weren’t his issues.

His intelligence was off the charts and he loved, and I mean loved, listening to music. He would stay up all night to the point where I had to go to sleep; I was so worn out, believe it or not.

And he was a toddler.

My husband Willis, who was fighting in Afghanistan at the time, gave me the strength to keep asking questions. He told me we would find out how to give Gabe and his brothers Benjamin (two years older) and Jacob (four years younger), a great life.

But I was still frustrated.

So I do what I do when I get frustrated with not finding the right answers.

I prayed.

And I prayed. And I prayed. And I prayed.

Then I got an answer.

Autism.

In 2002, when he was 4-years-old, Gabe was diagnosed with autism. I didn’t know much about what this was at the time.  But I was determined to find out more.  And to give my son the care he needed.

But it wasn’t going to be easy.

The term “autism” was new to a lot of families in Muncie at the time. People had heard of it—I had, too—but in terms of finding out how to raise your child, what to expect as they get older, how to encourage their siblings to play with them, we had no clue.

We needed a support group, where we could get together and ask questions. We needed to learn from parents who had gone through the testing and the therapy sessions. We needed to find answers for how best to raise our children.

Before I knew it, my passion for finding answers became bigger than helping Gabe.

I wanted to help Muncie.

I organized the support group with the help of plenty of others in the community in 2005. I wasn’t sure who would come.

I found out.

Standing room only. That’s what we had during the first session almost 10 years ago.

People had plenty of questions and some had answers. We had each other to lean on and that made the biggest difference in the world. We could be honest with each other about how tired we were and how we just didn’t know what to do with our children with autism. .

We were also tired of family and friends who disappeared from our lives; some ashamed to have our children with their kids.

But we had each other to lean on and that made the biggest difference in the world.

The advertisements for crazy schemes to “cure” autism—“Use this clay and your child will be back to normal”—and the people who just told us to spank our children into “acting right” drove us crazy.

Having people not understand us or our family dynamic was frustrating. We were tired of explaining why, at least in Gabe’s case, he was obsessed with trains. Because he is. That’s it.

But we had each other to lean on and that made the biggest difference in the world.

Wondering about what the future holds made us afraid for our children. Will they get married? What about high school? Will they be teased? And what about this “spectrum” we keep hearing about? Does it change?

We were unaware of what was going on with our children.

But we had each other to lean on and that made the biggest difference in the world.

I learned so much through the support group. I learned it’s ok to have more questions than answers for a little while.

But there comes a point when you have to fight for answers. By 2005, I was at that point.

Many of the families were.

We needed an organization that could give people answers.

Interlock was born during those days, in the 2000s. The fight we all had for our children became addictive and, before we knew it, this nonprofit was formed to help the Muncie community overall learn about autism.

We held walks to educate others and show our support for each other.

We honored residents in East Central Indiana who broke any stigma that exists about children with autism.

We also helped others who needed expensive items they couldn’t afford; maybe extra child-safe locks for their homes or specialized headphones for trips to the grocery store.

“Interlock, where the pieces come together.”

I continued to fight not only for Gabe, but for all the families in Muncie who couldn’t afford services due to insurance issues.

I continued to fight for families who needed legislators to understand autism is real and our children deserve the best services out there.

I continued to fight to the point when I decided this was my new life. My new love. Working to give families the best of everything they need.

You know, when I married my husband almost 17 years ago, I was a paralegal, completely intrigued by the criminal justice system. I had graduated from Ball State University, married my high school sweetheart and lived a prayer-filled life.

I’m happy with that life, but a lot of that life is in the past.

Now, I am working on a Ph.D. at the Chicago School for Professional Psychology. I’m really excited about the teaching aspect of my future work in special education, but I’m the most passionate about working with families.

One day, my son Benjamin asked me, “Mom, how do I find out the purpose God has with my life? I see God wants you to change the world of autism.”

That touched me. But this isn’t about me. It never has been.

At first, it was about my son, but it’s moved so far beyond that now.

It’s about the families who, even though they don’t always have the energy to walk through grocery aisles with their children or have any idea how their child will act at a birthday party, want the best for their kids.

Really, we’re no different than any other parent.

Our children have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

We love them, even when they want to beat their heads against the wall.

We love them, even when they’re night owls who never go to sleep.

We love them, even when their siblings say, “I don’t know how to play with brother.”

We love them. Forever.

I love you, Gabe.

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As told to Ivy Farguheson by Belinda Hughes.

Ivy is the social services reporter for The Star Press. She has lived in the Muncie community for more than five years and has been amazed at the commitment by residents like Belinda who do what they can to improve lives for everyone.

Belinda is the founder of Interlock East Central Indiana.  If you were moved by her story, you can contact her at Belinda@behaviorassociatesofindiana.com.