By Katie Scarvey
It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Rockwell home of Shane and Teresa Bolton.
Lauren is in her bedroom, which is decorated with everything Hannah Montana, from posters to bedspread. The 14-year-old is listening to Miley Cyrus at full volume.
Five-year-old Mary is running around making noise.
Jared, a senior at East Rowan High School, is home for a while before he goes back to school for Broadway Revue rehearsal .
It’s a pretty typical after-school scenario.
Except Jared, Lauren and Mary really aren’t typical kids.
Long-time Post readers may remember meeting Jared and Lauren in our pages in 1996 ó in a story about autism. Both Jared and Lauren had been diagnosed with the disorder.
Back then, Shane and Teresa would not have been able to predict how their children’s lives would unfold.
Jared, 18, is at the high end of the autism spectrum. On track to be an honors graduate, “he has come a million miles from the little 5-year-old boy who struggled just to stay in his seat in the classroom,” Teresa says.
Jared, Teresa says, is proof that there is hope. Yet Teresa and Shane also know that it doesn’t always turn out that way for children with autism.
Jared was developing normally until he began to change before his second birthday. He lost interest in things like swinging, riding his trike and playing kickball.
His vocabulary shrank to three words. He began engaging in repetitive activities, like rocking back and forth or throwing rocks in a puddle for hours on end.
Shane and Teresa thought Jared’s behavior might be caused by grief over the death of his grandfather.
That was not the case. Three years later, the diagnosis was official: Jared had autism.
Jared’s little sister Lauren was 8 months old when Teresa noticed her rocking back and forth ó behavior she’d seen in Jared.
“My blood went cold,” she said. From then on, Lauren did not progress normally.
Today, Lauren’s language skills are basic, and she often simply repeats what she hears, a behavior called echolalia. She exhibits the rocking behavior that is characteristic of autism.
Unlike Jared, 14-year-old Lauren is at the severe end of the autism spectrum. She does not go to public school, instead attending a day program in Concord.
Because she also has bipolar disorder, she is unpredictable and prone to aggressive outbursts. Living with Lauren is “like living with a time bomb most days,” Teresa says.
Shane often works with Lauren in the evenings, helping her to acquire skills, like reading a calendar. He’s taken on the role of “Lauren specialist,” Teresa says. Since Lauren is larger than her mother, Teresa can’t handle her physically.
In some ways, though, Lauren is a typical teen, with her love of shoes, bags and pop music. Teresa couldn’t believe it when Hannah Montana concert tickets came up for sale in the middle of the night when she happened to be on the computer. She snapped them up, and she and Shane took Lauren to the concert.
“Getting those tickets was a miracle,” Teresa says. “To be able to watch her face during that show….”
Jared has had his special moments as well, including a personal meeting with Jeff Gordon and a Queen concert in Atlanta with his mom.
When Teresa became pregnant with Mary, she felt there was no way autism would strike a third time.
After a difficult delivery, things were great. Mary was their miracle baby. She was doing well, laughing, interacting, acquiring language.
At 18 months, things took an ominous turn. Mary started getting “little staring spells” and her language “slowly started going away,” Teresa says.
“That was the darkest time of my life,” she recalls.
She and Shane knew what was happening all too well and were not surprised when Mary was diagnosed as having autism.
Mary, who is in a pre-kindergarten program at Morgan Elementary School, is not aggressive to others as Lauren sometimes is. Instead, she turns her frustration on herself, sometimes actually striking herself in the face.
She clicks her tongue and makes cricket sounds.
The Boltons believe that Mary could progress like brother Jared, whose progress she seems to be mirroring. They are hopeful for her future.
“It has been a miracle how far she’s come since the beginning of the year,” Teresa says.
“She can’t wait to get to her class and be with her friends,” Teresa says.
She loves to hang out on the couch in Jared’s room, watching him play Guitar Hero. Jared is patient with his little sister.
As they’ve done with their other children, Shane and Teresa make it a point to keep talking to Mary, even if she doesn’t respond. They aren’t sure how much gets through to Mary, but they keep trying.
Jared’s progress has been gratifying for Teresa and Shane.
In first grade, Jared began to get his language skills back. “It was like a switch went off in his mind or his brain,” Teresa says.
Jared has in many ways been an exceptional child.
One day, Jared, not yet in kindergarten, asked his dad to read the back cover of a book. Shane said no, it wasn’t a part of the story.
So Jared picked it up and began to read for himself : “Little Golden Books are books to grow with…”
Shane was shocked.
During elementary school, Jared spent part of his time in a special class. At Southeast Middle School, he was in regular classes only and played trumpet in the band.
The Boltons worried a little that high school would be intimidating for Jared. After a brief stint at Gray Stone Day School, Jared went to East Rowan, where he will graduate this spring. He’s as happy there as he’s ever been, Teresa says.
Last quarter, Jared made all As. This year, he’s doing well in an honors computer class, Teresa says.
Jared’s autism is not immediately apparent.
“People don’t know that about me, really,” Jared says.
He’s “just a little quirkier than usual,” Teresa says.
He talks to himself from time to time. He takes language literally and doesn’t always read non-verbal cues.
“But as far as getting along in daily life, there are no problems,” Teresa says.
Jared went to prom last year, and he’s had girlfriends. He has a best friend who attends North Rowan High School.
He doesn’t want to go to college, at least not right away. He’d like to work with computers.
“I never would have imagined he’d be where he is today,” Teresa says.
Jared says that he “came out” at East Rowan in a sociology class.
His teacher was talking about autism.
“How about I be a guest speaker tomorrow?” Jared asked his teacher.
He told his classmates that he had autism, and that both of his sisters did as well.
The Boltons maintain a positive outlook and don’t mind joking about their situation, as stressful as it can be. “We were autistic when autistic wasn’t cool,” Shane likes to say.
“Sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying,” Teresa says.
Coping with the reality of autism in their lives is overwhelming sometimes, Teresa says.
“A lot of people come home from work, have dinner, discuss their day; the kids do homework, get baths and go to bed. Not us. We don’t get to sit around sipping wine and reading books in the evening.”
Much of the difficulty comes from not knowing what to expect from Lauren.
One challenge is that Lauren doesn’t have regular sleeping patterns. If she goes to bed at 9, she’ll be up at 2 or 3 in the morning.
Teresa says she and Shane are lucky they both have understanding employers. She works at home as a medical transcriptionist with Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast. Shane is an estimater with a commercial paint company in Rockwell.
The Boltons have of course wondered why, as they put it, they “hit the autism lottery.”
“I really believe there has to be some kind of genetic thing,” Teresa says.
But nobody really knows, Teresa says.
“I wish somebody would figure it out, and I wish they’d do it in a hurry,” she says.
They don’t wish for a different life, however.
“Our kids are our kids,” says Teresa simply. ” I wouldn’t trade them. As hard as they are sometimes, we love them.”
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Katie Scarvey