Sunday, April 15, 2007

Great moment in teenager's life who battles Epilepsy and Autism

This week was special for 14-year-old Matthew Bond because for the first time ever a friend came to his house, hung out with him and watched videos.For most kids, this would be no big deal. But for Matthew, who has autism, the visit was one of the most important events to happen in his life so far.Most autistic children find it difficult to reach out to other youngsters — and the world in general.

On Thursday, Matthew’s parents, Brian and Kim Bond of Bradford, spoke about their oldest son’s condition in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, which is observed in April. The Bonds also hope that by sharing their story, others will become more aware of varying degrees of autism, how it affects children and the help that is available.A visit to the Bond household this week found Matthew’s parents, his brother Craig and sister Mikayla excited for Matthew.

That’s because running around the house with him was his buddy from school, Kyle Robinson.Mr. Bond said he learned of Matthew’s new friend when his wife called him at work Wednesday night. “Kim called me and asked if Kyle could spend the night with Matthew and I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead, he can stay’ and hung up the phone,” Mr. Bond said.“But then I thought about it a minute, called her back and said, ‘Did you just say what I thought you said?’ Nobody has ever had the guts to say ‘Matthew’s my friend and I don’t care what you think.’”

For the Bonds, events such as this are the small steps their son has been taking towards living a full life.Mrs. Bond said that as a baby, Matthew appeared to be developing normally until the age of 3. It was then that his parents noticed he wasn’t speaking like other toddlers his age. When he developed multiple seizures his parents knew that something was wrong. “We went to a neurologist and he told us, ‘We’ll get the seizures under control and you’ll have a normal child,’” Mrs. Bond said.However, when he started school, Matthew stayed to himself and played with blades of grass while other children ran around and interacted in the playground.

Mrs. Bond, who works with autistic children at Beacon Light Behavioral Light Health Systems, said that she had suspected that her son could have the same developmental disability.But it was only after visiting neurologists at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for several years that specialists finally determined Matthew had autism. He was 8 at the time and his parents knew they had a lot to do.One of the first steps was for Matthew to have a vagal nerve stimulator implanted to help control his seizures. The stimulator, described as a pacemaker for the brain, only was implanted after the Bonds battled an insurance company to fund the procedure.

The operation was scheduled to take place until the insurance company backed out at the last minute. In response, the Bonds contacted the media and publicized their plight. Within days the insurance company changed its position and agreed to pay for the procedure.The incident inspired the Bonds to become more vocal about autism, set up a Web site and start an Autism Support Group in Bradford. The group meets at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the First United Methodist Church and has a good following.

The family also participated in an autism awareness walk last year out of the area, and they are forming a team this year called the “Bradford, Pa., Walk for Autism.” The group will walk in an autism awareness walk in Jamestown, N.Y., on Sept. 16. “With Matthew, we started a little late but we’ve made a lot of progress,” Mr. Bond said. While Matthew has therapeutic staff support at Floyd C. Fretz Middle School, he also works on computers in technical education classes and is enrolled in general gymnasium classes where he is encountering new friends like Kyle.The parents noted that one family member who has helped Matthew come out of his shell is the family dog, Brandy.

Adopted from the McKean County SPCA, Brandy has been a best friend to Matthew over the years.The Bonds said they hope to continue to get the word out on autism as they believe it is reaching epidemic proportions. According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control, autism is now affecting one out of every 166 children and strikes more boys than girls.Mr. Bond said that thanks to research, autism is being detected earlier in children, thereby providing earlier intervention.“We were given Matthew for a reason, and if it’s us talking about it and making other parents realize they’re not alone,” she said, that’s what the family is prepared to do.


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