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Autism awareness: Scott Carlson

Scott Carlson sits with his parents on either side.

FAIRMONT — April is Autism Awareness Month throughout the nation. Scott Carlson is a Fairmont native who was diagnosed at the age of three with Autism.

The definition of autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. There is a spectrum to the disorder that makes each person with autism a unique story.

Scott was born in 1985 and is the youngest of four. His mother, Pam Carlson, discussed that he had trouble meeting typical childhood milestones like sitting up. She went on to say that he was fairly easy to take care of at that point. In 1988 his mother and his father received the diagnosis that Carlson had autism.

As Carlson got older it became more difficult for Pam and his family to take care of him. Carlson wasn’t sleeping well at night by only sleeping an hour and then up for two hours. Other things Carlson dealt with were pictures having to not be on the wall and taking curtains off the windows.

Carlson was in a school program starting at the age of two and later on had in-home services from REM Heartland.

When he was about eight and a half his family was at a crossroads on how to take care of him. His family worked with a county case manager and the recommendation was that Carlson would be in an out-of-home placement. They didn’t know what that meant as examples were that Carlson would move to a different community and live in a specialized foster home or in a residential school setting that was outside of the community. That was something his family was not comfortable with.

At the time Fairmont didn’t have this, but a home for children was started. Carlson remained in the community and that his family could see him whenever they wanted.

REM Heartland has been a part of his life from an early age. Sharon Chavez of REM said that since he was a child they implemented programming during every stage of his life. Programs included were from autism specialists and sensory specialists that have had a positive impact on his daily living skills and daily routines. Chavez has been with him since he was six years old and has been with REM for 30 years.

During Carlson’s school years REM worked for hand and hand with the special education teachers to help them form a successful atmosphere and learning environment. Some of Carlson’s big milestones have been attending church, Sunday school, confirmation, prom, and graduation.

“We were with him every step of the way,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of long-term staff at our house and that really is very beneficial to anyone especially people who are on the autism spectrum. To have that consistency, routine basis and build those relationships that we’ve formed with him through all of these years is just a blessing to all of us.”

Then Carlson transitioned into working in the community which included jobs and volunteer positions delivering newspapers, at the local Red Rock Center for the Arts, and at a nursing home. Carlson has a very scheduled day program with one on one staffing. Other things that have been fit into his program are things such as heavy lifting and breaking down boxes that are sensory things that help calm him.

“And the good news is that Scott is also a taxpayer,” Pam said. “He’s earning money and is a regular participant in the community.”

Pam said that she hopes that her son is happy in his home life and prays and hopes that there will be more employment opportunities. Also that he will do like the rest of us and continue to work and enjoy his time out in the community.

Carlson likes to have his schedule be a routine and can predict it. Pam Carlson said that this could affect him when it came to traveling outside of the community.

Carlson’s interests include loving a variety of music, going out on walks, his Ipad, looking at pictures, picnics, cruising around town, sitting outside, going to church, watching movies, and many other things. His particular movie interests include action movies and Disney movies.

The overall message that Pam wanted readers and the community to hear is that people with autism do not just fit one definition and that she is very thankful to live in this time and that there is a month to recognize Autism Awareness. An experience Pam had was that she ran into someone who saw the movie Rain Man and thought that Carlson fit that role. Carlson is non-verbal and communication is tough so that there is uncertainty to what he knows.

“I think I’d like people to realize you don’t know what’s deep down inside of their brain and a feeling,” Pam said. “So to be aware of that and understanding that behaviors don’t necessarily indicate a person’s intelligence.”

Chavez added that early programming, early diagnosis, and early treatment are key to helping people with autism and grow to be successful in life.

“I totally agree that early intervention is vital, however, I would like people to know that all hope is not lost,” Pam said. “He has made a lot of progress and there have been certain limitations, but boy all is not lost and hope is not lost.”

REM Heartland focuses on their abilities and not their disabilities. That each individual’s programming is person-centered that builds up their strengths and interests. REM Heartland wants their life to be just like our lives and that they are meaningful, enjoyable, happy, and successful.

“There are a lot of tools, programs, and specialists that can offer a lot to the people that we serve,” Chavez said “There’s tons and tons of hope for their life to be happy, pleasant, and calm. I believe that with my whole heart.”

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