Boy’s journey has ups, downs

FAIRMONT – Johnathon Obray just turned 5 years old, and he knows what he likes: jumping on his trampoline, playing soldiers and wrestling.

He also knows what he doesn’t like: going to school.

“I don’t want to go to school because of the naughty kids there,” he said.

Johnathon is in a special education preschool class at Fairmont Elementary. According to his mother, Kallie, it isn’t actually school he doesn’t like, it’s riding the bus.

Johnathon has autism and has trouble deciphering social cues. It means he doesn’t always act like other kids, and he gets picked on.

“I know Johnathon isn’t sitting quietly and reading a book [on the bus],” Kallie said. “But 4- and 5-year-olds shouldn’t come home with black eyes.”

For Kallie, learning her oldest child had autism was a journey, one in which she had to realize not all autistic kids look or act the same way.

“Autism is like fingerprints,” she said. “No two are the same.”

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum, with boys diagnosed five times as often as girls.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Kallie hopes telling Johnathon’s story will help others learn what she had to, and teach their children that the kid who acts differently might be struggling to understand his surroundings.

Kallie knew something was different about Johnathon from an early age.

“Like any new mom, I was like, this baby never sleeps,” she said.

The difference was her son was sleeping for just minutes, while other infants – and their moms -?get at least a few hours rest.

Kallie told her mom she thought Johnathon was autistic when he was 7 months old, something she said was just a feeling she couldn’t shake, although she never pursued a diagnosis.

Johnathan’s sleep pattern continued into toddlerhood, combined with a rambunctious energy Kallie attributed to a family history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It wasn’t until Johnathan began regressing at almost 21?2 years old that she sought specific help.

Johnathan, who had been very verbal and able to recognize letters and numbers, seemed to stop learning. Soon he was having trouble with the alphabet, knowledge he is just now regaining almost three years later.

Doctors put him on melatonin to help him get some sleep, and tested him for food allergies because of lifelong stomach issues. Eventually, they came upon a diagnosis – autism.

Kallie didn’t believe it.

“You say ‘autism’ and people picture a non-verbal, inside-himself kid,” said Kallie, describing her son as outgoing to a fault, not understanding boundaries, and energetic.

She was googling “autism” not long after Johnathon was diagnosed when she came upon a description of autistic symptoms that included difficulty learning to ride a bike.

“We had been working on [teaching Johnathon] to pedal for two years,” Kallie said. “I just started crying at the computer. My world just hit me in the face.”

Since his diagnosis, Johnathon has been able to participate in therapy; he takes medication; and he is enrolled in special education pre-school.

He is a special help to one of his little siblings, Charlotte, a 20-month old who suffers from epilepsy.

“When she has a seizure, Johnathon is her biggest comfort,” said Kallie, adding that she always asks for him after an episode, and he holds her and tells her it will be OK.

Johnathon is thriving in his classroom, which he attends half-days most days of the week.?He is beginning to re-learn some of the skills he lost earlier in life.

But then there is the bus ride. At almost an hour long, Johnathon has a long time to wait before reaching home.

“If the school program wasn’t so good, we would pull him out,” said Kallie, noting she has called both the school and Minnesota Motor Bus, and both have tried to help, but Johnathon continues to get picked on.

Kallie is looking into an online program for Johnathan next year so he doesn’t have to ride the bus.

As a daycare provider, Kallie isn’t able to drive Johnathon to school herself, although she has asked family and friends to drive him, and even looked into hiring a taxi.

Kallie wants families to talk about autism, to tell their kids that sometimes other kids can’t help acting differently.

“There are kids you think are crazy and hyperactive,” she said, “but they really might not know what is going on around them.”