Family raising money and awareness through autism walk
• Through faith and determination, family is working to overcome Chuck's disability
By Parish Howard
In many ways Chuck Prescott is your average 4-year-old. He loves to swim and skate, knows his ABCs, seems to have a natural knack for the computer and plays with his big sister.
But in some ways Chuck is different.
Even before he learned to swim, he had no fear of the deep end, no fear of heights, or burns, or traffic or anything.
When the light went out
As long as he is sitting at his computer, he can point out the ABCs and show you which fruit begins with the letter A, but he can't tell you. He can't say the letters or tell his parents Charlie and Julie Prescott of Matthews that he is hungry or his sister Hannah that he loves her.
He can show them these things, but he can't say the words.
Chuck's family is working together to overcome his disability, and to help teach others about the developmental disorder that has changed their lives.
His mother remembers the instant she recognized the difference.
Living and learning with the disorder
"He is big into Veggi-Tales," Julie said last week while Chuck ran back and forth from his bedroom to the computer in his therapy room. "We played this game where I'd say 'Chuck, go get Bob the tomato' or 'Go get Larry the cucumber' and he would run to his room and come back with that particular toy. He knew his toys, he knew his Veggie Tales like the back of his hand."
Then one day, without any warning, something changed.
"When I told him to go get Bob the tomato, he just looked at me with this blank face like he didn't know what I was talking about," Julie said.
She went through Larry and the other characters and Chuck didn't respond.
"I told him, 'Chuck, go get your shoes,'" she said. "But he just kept giving me that blank stare. Right then a part of me knew something was wrong."
Before that day her son had been saying several words.
"It was like a light went out, he just lost them," she said. "He lost his language."
It isn't too unusual for a day or two to go by without a 15-month-old child repeating a new word. But when those days turn into weeks, and those weeks grow into months without a single word, people start to get seriously worried.
"I started noticing other things," Julie said, "like how he would line his toys up. If you walked by and pushed one out of order he'd get upset and immediately put it back in line."
And then there were was the biting and head banging that accompanied fits of frustration.
"I knew something wasn't right," she said.
Julie started searching the symptoms online and she kept turning up sites on autism. It was time to share her fears with her husband Charlie.
"It's one of those things you want to look at, but at the same time, you don't want to look at," she said.
She decided to give it some time, but she didn't throw the information on autism away. She even brought up her concerns with their pediatrician at Chuck's 18 month checkup.
But the doctor told her not to worry, and reassured her that boys often are slower developing language than girls.
"It was a good and a bad feeling," Julie said. "Every mother wants to hear a doctor tell you that your child is all right, but at the same time I knew, I knew there was something else."
When, at nearly 2-years-old, Chuck still wasn't speaking a word and the other symptoms were not going away, the Prescotts decided to take their son to a specialist.
On Nov. 20 of that year, just two months before his second birthday, Chuck was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
"I had had my suspicions, but I guess part of me was expecting the doctor to tell me that everything was going to be OK," Julie said. "She launched into all this information about support groups and different kinds of therapy and I didn't know what to say. All I could think to ask is what is the worst case scenario."
Like any mother, she wasn't ready for the answer.
"She answered my question," Julie said. "She told me that worst case, my son would end up being institutionalized and that his condition would be more than I could bear."
She still remembers the frighteningly long ride home from Augusta to Matthews that day, riding alone in the quiet vehicle with her silent little boy, imagining how all of their lives were about to change forever.
"I had asked for the worst case scenario," Julie said, "and that's what she gave me. Looking back, I realized I asked the wrong question."
Walk for Autism
The Prescotts have learned a lot about autism since then.
"When you mention autism, people always think of the Rainman, the high functioning autistics who can paint masterpieces as children, recite all sorts of numerical facts or play Mozart by ear," Julie said. "There are all different levels of autism, mild to moderate to severe. Chuck falls somewhere between moderate and severe."
The functioning level of the disorder is based at least partly on the individuals communication skills.
The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in 2 to 6 per 1,000 births (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003).
Other symptoms of the disorder include an inability to play with others.
"It's that he doesn't know how," Julie said. "It's hard to identify sometimes because there will often be a lot of parallel play, where he may be playing in a group with other children, but if you really look, you'll notice he isn't really interacting with them."
Playing with toys inappropriately is another symptom that is not always obvious among small children.
"While other boys may be pushing cars around on the floor, he may be holding it upside down, spinning a tire and watching it turn," Julie said.
There is also often an over sensitivity to touch, light and sounds. Some children with autism don't want to be touched at all.
"It's a mystery to imagine why a child wouldn't want to be held," Julie said, "but some of these children don't want to be touched at all. It's sad."
It's a mystery her family has lived with and one that therapy has helped Chuck overcome.
Now they can hug and kiss, but it wasn't always like that.
"You think of most children running to their parents and holding out their arms to be picked up," Julie said. "Well, we have had to teach Chuck how to give a hug. It's actually a part of his therapy. We show him how to lift his arms and hug me, how to give me a kiss, and then we reward him for it. We do it over and over again."
In January, he will have been in therapy for two years.
In that time life has changed a lot for the Prescotts.
Hannah, a 9-year-old second grader at Wrens Elementary, now shares a bunkbed and room with her little brother. His old bedroom has been turned into a therapy room.
Julie, who was a teacher at Wrens Middle School, has decided to stay at home and organize Chuck's therapy, giving him the one-on-one attention he could not get any other way.
"I loved teaching, but I couldn't keep on doing it," she said. "My heart wasn't there anymore. It was at home."
The Prescott's have also become a lot closer with their spiritual family at Wrens Church of God.
Their pastor's wife Pam Addis, who had some experience with autism came to them right away.
"She volunteered to help us and is still helping," Julie said. "Her daughter is now getting some training through Gracewood and coming in to help as a part of the apprenticeship program at Jefferson County High School."
All of the other volunteer assistant therapists they've had have come through the church.
"We couldn't have made it without them," Julie said.
While digging up information on Autism, Julie discovered an Augusta group that raises money for families struggling to pay for their children's therapy. Julie is now the event's coordinator.
"Most insurance companies don't cover it," Julie said. "There just hasn't been enough research. And it can be quite expensive. I know families who have had to sell their homes and drive cheaper cars, all in an effort to save money."
Georgia Medicare will provide one hour of occupational, physical and speech therapy a week through the Babies Can't Wait program. But many parents, like Julie, feel that three hours a week just isn't enough. Chuck is in therapy between 25 and 40 hours a week.
The annual Augusta Walk for Autism raises thousands of dollars in scholarship funds which go directly to area families to assist parents of children with autism procure the specialized training required to overcome the disorder.
"Right now there are 11 families on scholarship through the walk," Julie said. "We raise money through corporate and individual sponsorship as well as through selling raffle tickets."
The event's goal for this year is $50,000, and Julie says they are getting close.
"It might seem like a lot of money to divide among 11 families," she said. "But the $3,500 to $4,500 we get for Chuck only pays like 20 percent of what we pay out."
The families have to pay for their services out of pocket, keeps its receipts and then the organization gives scholarships that partially reimburse.
According to their numbers, there are over 300 families in the CSRA in which children are diagnosed with some level of autism.
The Walk for Autism was created in Augusta and has since spread to Ohio and Charleston, S.C.
This year's Augusta walk will be held on Saturday, Sept. 25 at the corner of Eighth and Reynolds in downtown. Registration for the walk begins at 10 a.m.
Julie said she expects more than 250 people to show up for the actual event, but many, many more have contributed to it.
Anyone interested in more information on the event is encouraged to call Julie at church office (706) 547-7200 or (706) 547-6259 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If anyone would like to make a donation in honor of Chuck, they can send it to Walk for Autism-Augusta, P.O. Box 21116, Augusta, GA 30917.
"Not only does the event help raise money, but it raises awareness about autism," Julie said. "People don't know what it is."
It is important, she feels, for people to understand what the disorder is, what it means to the family and what to expect from those who have been diagnosed with it.
"Most everyone at church seems more relaxed now," she said. "They know how to approach him. I guess they are just more comfortable. It's important not just for Chuck, but for any child with a disability. When people see you go into a fit, they tense up, they get uncomfortable and you can feel that. I want people to know that they can approach him out in public, can say hello at McDonald's."
She feels that through events like the walk, the public can be educated on the disorder and can make a little more room in its heart for this special group of people.
Wadley man saved from gas leak
• Paramedics who rescued him also had to be treated
By Ben Nelms
Sept. 11 after paramedics found a strong smell of gas in the man's apartment while responding to a medical call.
Paramedics were routed to a Speir Street apartment after neighbors reported that the resident, a 58 year-old man on oxygen for a medical condition, was shaking and might need assistance. When they arrived, Rural Metro personnel entering the apartment detected the odor of propane gas inside the apartment, said Rural Metro Director Mike Bennett. The odor was stronger toward the interior of the apartment. Paramedics vented the apartment by opening the windows and turning on a fan, reports said.
Paramedics called E-911, requesting assistance in getting the man out of the apartment due to weight considerations. When Bennett arrived at the scene, he found that neighbors had assisted the ambulance crew in evacuating the man from the apartment. The resident was taken to Jefferson Hospital's Emergency Room and later transferred to Doctor's Hospital, where he was admitted and treated for carbon monoxide exposure, Bennett said. Rural Metro personnel at the scene were also treated and released at University Hospital for exposure, he added. Their symptoms included headache, dizziness and nausea.
Rural Metro was contacted Sept. 12 by Poison Control to check the status of everyone that had been in the apartment the previous day, according to incident reports. Poison Control was advised that Bennett had returned to the apartments the previous day to confirm with neighbors that they should be checked for exposure to carbon monoxide.
Wadley Fire Chief Bruce Logue said he checked the apartment later in the afternoon on Sept. 11 but detected no gas smell on the premises.
Contacted Monday, apartment manager Waynesboro Housing Authority's Executive Director Brent Meeks said his maintenance crew checked the apartment by testing for gas leaks and carbon monoxide but found nothing. He said the stove was replaced as a precautionary measure.
Bennett said the need for paramedics to be treated for exposure to gas is a rare event, occurring for the first time in the eight years he has served as operations manager in an emergency medical services setting.
Health hazards from carbon monoxide resulting from exposure to gas and its components include pain, redness, blurred vision and tearing in the eyes while inhalation can cause a range of problems including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, disorientation, excitation, drowsiness and can lead to lung paralysis and asphyxiation, according to information obtained from the Material Safety Data Sheet supplied by Phillips Petroleum Company.
$40 million offered for landfill
• Fate of the county landfill still being postponed
By Ben Nelms
The discussion to determine the fate of the Jefferson County landfill was postponed again at the commission's Sept. 14 regular session. Commissioners were given estimates on two options of keeping it open or closing the facility and constructing a transfer station. During his remarks, county administrator Paul Bryan acknowledged that the county had been offered $40 million for the landfill.
Bryan began the landfill portion of the meeting by restating the instructions given him at the Sept. 8 work session. Those instructions were to provide commissioners with both a recommendation for the Subtitle D landfill and an alternative.
“The reason this needs to be done now is because no matter which way we go, we need to take some action,” said Bryan. “If the decision is made to leave it open, we’ve got to take some action. If the decision is made to close it, we’ve got to take some action. If some other course of action is taken, we’ve got to get off of it and do some things. We’re under a time constraint and it’s time we move.”
Companies want landfill
Just before presenting his recommendation and an option, Bryan announced that he had been approached by an individual who made an offer of $40 million to purchase the county landfill. Bryan told the audience that neither he nor the board had any intention of selling the facility.
“I want to say something right now that’s been bothering me. It’s all over the street that I’ve been contacted by somebody wanting to buy the landfill. I think everybody knows it. I want to tell you, yes, it did happen. I’ve been contacted by more than one individual,” Bryan said. “But when I came to work here, very, very early on, I was advised about a conversation this board and the public had that the landfill was not for sale. I told both individuals I was not considering it, the board was not considering it, and that I would not take back to the board any offer of any consideration. And I did not and have not.
“With one individual a number came up,” Bryan continued. “I like to have fell out of my pants when the number came up. That number was $40 million. Whether that was an off-the-cuff remark or not, I don’t know. But I want to assure everybody in this room and every citizen of this county that this board is not entertaining selling the landfill.”
After his remark, Bryan made a brief presentation of his recommendation and an option. He recommended that the landfill either remain open or that it be closed and a transfer station be constructed to facilitate the removal of trash out of the county. Only a portion of the many considerations involved in the two options were discussed by commissioners.
Bryan began by referring to the 18 possible options listed earlier this year by landfill engineering consultant Chasman & Associates and the decision by the board in June to reduce the options to four. Bryan said neither of the options included costs associated with environmental concerns, public concerns, management expertise or the lack of it or changes in state codes or laws. He added that closure costs were not included in the option to keep the landfill open. Bryan said the estimates were based solely on costs and did not address any sources of revenue that might be associated with either option.
“I was asked to come up with some possible solutions or options,” he said. “Because of financial constraints and everything, I’ve come down to two and it’s basically you’re going to run it or you’re not going to run it.”
As presented, both options were figured over a 10-year period, based on trash generated countywide at 14,000 tons per year and included numbers without inflation and with an annual inflation rate of 1.5 percent.
Bryan said keeping the facility open without inflation factored in would cost $6,949,707 over 10 years compared to an estimated $8,018,424 price tag when inflation was included. By comparison, closing the facility and constructing a transfer station to store trash for removal outside the county would cost an estimated $12,691,707 without inflation and $14,577,262 over 10 years with inflation factored in. Converting those figures to a cost per ton equivalent, Bryan said keeping the landfill open would cost $49.64 per ton without inflation and $57.27 with inflation figured in. The per ton cost for closing it would be $90.65 without inflation and $104.12 with inflation.
Bryan said the gap between the cost of running the landfill and the revenue generated should equal out this fiscal year. The facility is budgeted for $544,312 from the period July 1 through June 30. The budgeted revenue for the same period is $544,322, a difference of only $10 for the year, he said.
Commissioners discussed aspects of the two options for several minutes, though no one asked to see the back -up figures that formed the basis of the estimates, nor did commissioners ask for cost estimates on factors such as short and long-term closure costs available from Georgia EPD, the current status of the metal content of samples from test wells situated between the landfill and Cason Branch, the reason why increasing number of metals are showing up in test results from wells bordering Cason Branch, the number and the cost of additional test wells that would be required as the landfill expanded or the cost, estimated by Chasman nearly two years ago at $60,000 per year, of hiring a landfill manager to oversee the facility.
After the discussion, Chairman Gardner Hobbs asked if commissioners were ready to make a decision on the matter. Hearing no response, he recommended that the discussion be continued at the October work session. No mention was made by Hobbs or other commissioners that the urgency of the matter might warrant setting a called meeting prior to the October work session to discuss the issues involved. Earlier in the meeting, Bryan told commissioners, as he had at the Sept. 8 work session, that a decision was needed immediately because the current cell will be filled between mid to late 2005, depending on how it was to be completed if left open or closed.
Toward the end of the meeting commissioners were asked numerous questions from the audience. Some of those included concerns about the monitoring of trash that comes into the facility, figures related to the earlier discussion of whether to close the landfill or keep it open, alternatives other than the two presented and the overall cost effectiveness of the facility. Commissioners were also asked if the total picture of expenses, revenue sources, environmental issues and all other factors would be taken into account prior to the final decision on the landfill being made.
“I certainly hope so,” was Hobbs response.