Learning to communicate with our boys has been a series of remarkable experiences and eye-opening moments. We have always given them the benefit-of-the-doubt that they had normal intelligence and could understand things that were going on around them, although to be honest, the evidence for that was not strong. If you look at either of our sons, it is apparent within minutes that they have autism. Most people would assume that they are mentally-retarded as well. Austin cannot speak. Aaron speaks in mostly rote-phrases and although he can answer simple questions, we have never been able to have a deep conversation out-loud. But over the last couple of years, our parental assumptions and “hope” has been confirmed in a big way. As mentioned in our “About Us” page, both boys started receiving therapy at HALO center in Austin, TX, using the rapid-prompting method developed by Soma Mukhopadhyay. From very early on, they began showing glimpses of their true selves. Austin was answering questions about history and writing simple stories. Aaron was having appropriate conversations with strangers and asking questions of them that showed his genuine interest in who they were. Aaron also began asking heart-wrenching questions, like “why do I have autism?” and “when are they going to find a cure?” As special as these moments were, they only happened once or twice a month, during our time at Soma’s office, as we were unable to effectively reproduce them at home using Soma’s letterboard. But, it gave us purpose and determination to realize that our sons were in there, had questions, had awareness of the world around them and were just waiting to break out. We decided that if our kids were capable of communicating, we needed to make it something that they could use in a generalized setting. So, we put away the letterboard and focused solely on helping them type on a keyboard. We started with Austin using a keyboard that was not attached to a computer and supporting his hand to type simple words. Not long after starting with that support, he began moving our hand instead of we moving his. And our first real conversations happened. I remember well the first time with Austin. I was going for a “yes/no” answer and asked him if he liked to watch basketball with dad. He typed “no.” And then, “Dad likes watching basketball but I prefer reading about science.” I was floored. Our next conversation was about hepatitis. (He was curious and wanted to know what it was). So, in that instant, our world changed. We knew that we could communicate with him on a completely different level than we had ever before imagined possible. It took us longer with Aaron because he was somewhat verbal and wasn’t interested in learning Austin’s communication method, at first. But, we started him the same way, using RPM at HALO. We then progressed to the computer and he also began typing his thoughts. But his thoughts were much deeper and sometimes difficult-to-hear as a parent. He mostly wanted to talk about how terrible it was to have autism, why God would have done this to him, why they can’t find a cure and what his future was going to look like. None were easy answers, but we continued to encourage him and told him that although we may not understand everything right now, we do know that God loves him, has a plan for him, and is aware of him and his struggles. Aaron took that in, though he admitted that he didn’t really believe it at first. Several months later, Aaron and I were watching an LDS church-produced film about our first prophet, Joseph Smith, that touched Aaron deeply and suddenly he felt that he was receiving answers to questions from God. Almost overnight, his conversations changed from asking “Why me?” to planning for his future life in helping other people with autism and also anyone who is struggling to understand that God loves them. The Sunday before we moved from Texas, he wanted to give a talk in church. The bishop of our congregation agreed and Aaron and I sat down to write out his talk. I assumed that I would have to pretty much write it with a little bit of input from him. But, I was completely wrong. Aaron wrote the entire thing by himself, although it was one paragraph per night. Each paragraph took him about 20-30 minutes to write, and that was about all of the endurance that he had at the time. (It requires a lot of focused concentration to get his thoughts down in print.) The topic was how God often uses small and simple tools to accomplish great things here on Earth. He bore a powerful testimony of God’s power and then said, “I am so thankful that God showed me that he loves me enough to touch my heart. He always knows what we need to help us. Autism has taken a lot from me. No matter how much I wanted to be normal, I wasn’t getting better. My attitude became very tainted with bitterness. But as I have gained a testimony about Christ, my love for Heavenly Father has grown and I am learning to have faith that there is a reason he wanted me to have autism. In many ways, I think autism will give me a voice so that as soon as I can get better at communicating my thoughts, as soon as my brain will let me, as soon as my spirit will take control of my body, I will be a powerful missionary for him.” When I watched him write those words, my own heart melted and tears flowed. What an amazing kid! On that Sunday, Aaron asked if I would read his talk for him, as he didn’t want his language deficit to detract from the spirit of his message. So, Aaron and I stood at the pulpit together and I read his words the best that I could, although choked with tears. There was not a dry eye in the congregation. They had all known Aaron for 9 years and I think most had underestimated who he was and what he was capable of. This simple act of sharing these words was a profound moment for all of us. Since then, Aaron has been asked to speak in church twice more (in our new area in Colorado). This time, his talks were longer but equally, if not more profound, and he read the words himself. It was not easy for him, but he did a great job and everyone could understand what he said and all were, again, impacted dramatically. Imagine how we, as his parents, felt watching our son with autism, with whom we have never been able to have a deep verbal conversation, get up and read a powerful talk that touched hundreds of people. It was truly paradisiacal.
Phyllis Krutsinger saysApril 8, 2016 at 8:18 am
I love this blog and your boys comments!!! You are so amazing as parents to these special boys! Heavenly Father truly blessed them by sending them to you. My tears flowed as I read the posts from your boys – especially the one on Aaron’s first talk. What a miracle that he and Austin are finally able to communicate and write their thoughts! So very inspiring!!! Your book was amazing too by the way!!! I’m a big fan! 🙂
Elizabeth Downing saysApril 17, 2016 at 10:03 pm
Bryan, I’ve been a big fan for years. I’m so grateful that your father shared the blog with me. I Love your books and I love you. May God bless the work you are doing. Just yesterday, I shared your books with someone who is experiencing autism. The world is a better place because of you and your amazing family!
Bryan Jepson saysApril 19, 2016 at 9:35 pm
Thank you all for your kind comments. I can assure you that we are learning more from these boys than we could ever give back. Many are very challenging lessons with plenty of sweet moments sprinkled in.
Cordell Staker saysApril 19, 2016 at 6:51 pm
What a great work you are doing. The most on purpose and focused selfless love there is.