Alisha and Eric suspected something was very wrong with one of their sons. “But the picture was clouded by the fact that he was such a preemie,” said Alisha. “We didn’t know what ‘normal’ delays were for him.” Twins Gavin and Ethan were born 12 weeks early. Ethan started talking when he was 2, but Gavin remained silent. When Gavin turned 5 years old, Alisha and Eric had their suspicions confirmed. Gavin was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder that affects the neurological development of social and communication skills.
Gavin plays at the playground near his home in Durham, N.C.
Now at age 9, Gavin attends a small, private school in Durham, N.C. The kindergarten through twelfth grade school only has 25 students and is able to offer individualized attention to students with special needs.
Ethan often plays with his younger brother Jack, 4. Lost in his own world, Gavin doesn’t make the best play companion.
Outside his home in Durham, Gavin plays with his therapist, Helen Grace. When she first started working with Gavin four years ago, Gavin could barely talk.
Now Gavin can say full sentences when prompted. In order to avoid over-stimulation, Helen Grace sits with Gavin for two minutes of quiet time after being outside.
When Gavin gets frustrated, he often communicates through screaming. His teachers and therapists are trying to teach him to use words instead of screams when he needs something.
“There’s a lot going on in that brain of his,” said one of his teachers, Mr. P. “He always surprises me.”
Gavin struggles to find a missing piece of his word puzzle. “He often can get more distracted by himself than by others around him,” said Helen Grace.
Gavin puts a pencil in his mouth to avoid starting his worksheet. Many autistic children become manipulative when teachers don’t know how to work with children with special needs.
Gavin is oblivious to his teacher’s instructions during music therapy.
When words fail, Gavin screams. Usually the screams will subside after a minute, but these screams lasted over 10 minutes. The teachers removed him from the classroom and waited until he calmed down.
Gavin is learning more and more every day. His screaming fits happen less and less often, but they still happen. “You could spend your whole life trying to not upset Gavin,” Alisha said. “But it’ll still happen."