Autism Proves an Inspiration

by Sean Myers, Calgary Herald

Mother pens book on experiences

When her daughter turned 12 years old, Kris Jones looked inward and realized she could no longer deny the truth. Allison was not going to be cured of autism. “I spent those first 12 years trying to change her, make her autism go away,” says Jones. “We tried various programs, but I had to accept she was autistic. It was a psychological turning point.”

That was in 1984. Allison is now 30 and is afforded a modicum of independence, spending her weeks in a program with the Foothills Advocacy In Motion Society based in High River and weekends with her parents Kris and Gord in Okotoks.

Last month, Kris published a book called Allison’s Suncatchers and Chains through Calgary-based Detselig Enterprises. It tells about her experiences raising an autistic child. While the first five chapters focus on Allison’s early years, along with an enlightening description of research on autism, the bulk of the book is dedicated to what followed after her parents accepted who she was.

“We had to create meaning for this disability,” says Jones. “So we treated it as an opportunity to learn.” Like most expecting mothers, Jones says she prayed for a healthy baby, but she was having some difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term in the early ’70S. She suffered two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy where a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus.

Seven months after she became pregnant with Allison, Jones frankly writes, she actually “asked God to please not give me a baby with mental disabilities.” She felt she could handle a physical impairment, but not something affecting intelligence. Allison was born on her due date, July 14, 1972, at Foothills hospital. While it soon became apparent to Jones, a registered nurse, that something was different about her baby as Allison didn’t seem responsive to the usual social stimuli as other babies her age, it wasn’t until she turned four and had suffered several seizures that she was diagnosed with autism.

Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of problems and severity. Its onset begets neurological, motor and perceptual abnormalities resulting in developmental, social, language and behavioral problems. The cause of autism remains a mystery. When Allison was diagnosed, the Jones’ were told one in 10,000 were affected by autism. Today that ratio has narrowed to one in 500.
The title for the book comes from the two things Allison seems to love most – looking through suncatchers and holding the chain of the now deceased Welsh corgi named Q!1ality she was given in 1985 as part of the Canine Companions for Independence program.

Jones says the title also provided an apt metaphor for Allison’s disability. The suncatchers represent rays of light and positive aspects of autism, while chains indicate the limitations the syndrome exacts on those it afflicts.
Jones doesn’t like the term disabled, preferring to call her daughter “differently- abled,” and she and her husband have come to treasure the person that Allison has become. “She’s very gentle and very sweet,” says Jones. “She makes very few demands and is not aggressive at all. She loves music and is very forgiving. We always talk to her as if she understands everything because I know deep down she does.”

Jones included in her book a poem called For You that she wrote from the perspective of her daughter. The last lines read: “My reason for being is to help you grow, as we share our triumphs and failures. Believe in me and your God in me and you’ll learn to forgive and be free.”

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