Out of love
Family braves hardships with autistic child
On any given day, walking into the Drow home is like walking into a swirling torrent, hurricane Adam already in progress.
Four-year-old Adam Drow possesses boundless energy, usually sprinting from room to room. Any object in reach of his right hand becomes a projectile to be thrown.
Tables may be cleared quickly as he swipes them empty with his forearms. The Drows have hail screens on their front door and windows. The door also features three different locks, out of reach of the growing child. Without these precautions, Adam would flee from the residence with the zeal of an escaping prisoner.
He can be physically abusive, although not intentionally with sisters Karlee Fetrow and Marium Drow. He once slapped his mother Ronda in a waiting room. She had to resist the strong urge to spank him.
When Adam is at his most hyperactive the only thing that will calm him down are Tom and Jerry cartoons.
“We were flipping through channels and he was mesmerized by it,” Ronda said. “I talked to a specialist. She said it’s because it doesn’t have words; it doesn’t have all the other stimuli.”
This is life with an autistic child. Specifically, Adam is diagnosed with moderate autistic spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder. Adam is a non-verbal eloper.
Ronda said he has only begun to speak in the past six months. He had spoken proper, but it was as if he recorded the words around him and then indeterminately pressed his personal play button to release phrases.
This lack of communication has decided disadvantages.
This past Thanksgiving Adam was playing with his cousins when he suddenly stopped and screamed. When Ronda saw him, he was holding his arm limp against his side.
“We think he broke his arm; he wouldn’t move it,” Ronda said. “He was screaming bloody murder.”
The worried parents took him to St. Luke Hospital in Marion. The hospital had no way to treat an autistic child and they transferred Adam to Newton.
After an ambulance ride, the staff at Newton Medical Center was determined to hold Adam down to complete an X-ray.
Ronda said Adam felt like he was being abducted by malicious aliens ready to conduct experiments.
“For him it seems like something coming to get him,” she said.
Adam would not stay still. The medical staff decides the best course of action was to administer a sedative, something Ronda resisted.
Even with the sedative, he would not calm down. Then they wanted to give him morphine.
“He’s already had a Ritalin and a sedative,” Ronda said. “He’s 4 years old!”
With one nurse holding both his arms and another nurse holding him down, a doctor moved to inject Adam in his butt. Adam jerked forward with great force and ripped the needle up his back.
At this point, the staff at Newton medical Center determined they could not treat Adam either. They transferred him to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.
“He sobbed the entire way to Wichita,” Ronda said. “Nobody is equipped to deal with something they don’t know about. I have to do it their way until their way doesn’t work.”
Seven hours after Adam’s original injury, the staff at Wichita took an X-ray with a portable machine that showed Adam had hyper-extended his elbow. For the most part, he was fine.
“He can’t tell you where it hurts,” she said.
This is one instance where professionals wanted to perform tests on Adam, a difficult proposition with him needing constant contact and constantly fighting. Ronda is starting to wonder if the tests are worth it.
“He has a stigmatism,” she said. “He’s never going to wear glasses.”
Ronda is not sure if Adam will ever be able to read. Her and her husband John’s focus is to get Adam to be as normal as possible. Even with the shades of gray inherent in that task, the goal is proving to be difficult.
Whenever, the Drows go out in public, Adam wears a harness shaped like a cartoon monkey. Without it, he would run away. The family draws looks from store crowds, especially with the older son restrained while 2-year-old daughter Marium walks unbridled alongside them.
“In our minds, there’s nothing wrong with him,” she said. “If people need a label, that’s fine.”
Saying Adam does not understand his actions is not entirely accurate. Ronda believes Adam understands what is right and wrong but that his compulsiveness overrules any dread of getting in trouble.
“To him, the feeling he gets when he is compulsive is the best feeling ever,” she said.
His strong compulsiveness is exemplified in his obsession with balloons. Balloons are special treat in the Drow household. Adam loves balloons — he likes to let them fly and pop them. When the balloon pops, he will scream until he gets another balloon. Once caught in this cycle, it becomes very difficult to break.
Adam takes a toll on the Drow family.
He is scheduled to start kindergarten next year. Because of his compulsion to run, he will be relegated to a small, enclosed playground away from most children.
“I don’t want the other kids to hold it against him,” Ronda said.
Nine-year-old sister Karlee volunteered to take her recess to play with him.
“I don’t want to take away from her,” Ronda said with tears in her eyes.
Karlee possesses patience beyond her years, taking significant physical punishment from Adam in rough play.
“I would prefer this 9-year-old girl to watch him more than any adult,” Ronda said.
Even Karlee struggles.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when he breaks my stuff,” she said.
Karlee has the opportunity to stay with her father on weekends and periodically with grandparents to get a break. She and Ronda used to go out once a week to get some mother/daughter time.
But, Ronda’s time is limited.
Ronda and John have gone out three times since Adam was born. Ronda does not trust Adam with non-family baby sitters, even those with professional credentials trained to take care of special needs children.
“There’s so many times that he’s pushed me and I’ve had to walk away,” she said. “They don’t love him. I love him. I’m deathly afraid of someone hurting him. He can’t tell me if they hurt him.”
Ronda takes her breaks where she can get them after John gets home: a jaunt to the grocery just to go and 30-minute trips to Casey’s for a pop.
Ronda undoubtedly loves her son and sometimes that love is returned. A myth about autistic children, or at least with Adam, is that they do not return affection. Adam will offer a kiss or a hug.
“He doesn’t like to stop long enough to give it,” Ronda said. “Since I’ve forced my affection on him, people say that part is better.”
There are moments that make the hardships easier.
One morning, as John was leaving for work, she said, “Hey buddy, mommy loves you.”
Without prompting, Adam turned around and said, “I love you.”