We all need an outlet – something that lets us break free and be ourselves away from everyday stress. It can be cooking, hiking, or just picking up a good book and relaxing on the sofa, and this is especially true for children with autism whom suffer daily with emotional stress and anxiety. Sheila Hobley, a mother of three autistic children, knows exactly how important it is for her children to escape into another world of their own.
After giving birth to her first son, Alex, who is now 16, Sheila was devastated and confused when he was diagnosed with autism. As a young, 26-year-old mother, it was challenging to deal with a disease she knew so little about and the behavioral side effects that accompanied it. When Sheila and Alex’s father separated and she entered into a relationship with her current spouse, Andy, she was terrified to have another child in fear that any other children she may have would also have autism.
As doctors reassured her that her chances of having another autistic child were slim to none (about 1 in 1,000), Shelia and Andy felt confident and were ready to add to their family. But even though the odds were in their favor, Sheila gave birth prematurely to two autistic twins, George and Jimmy.
At first the doctors denied they boys had any such condition and tried to persuade Sheila she was wrong. But it didn’t take long for the classic signs of autism to begin showing up in the twins, and even caretakers of the boys noticed as well. They would roll on the floor, rip each other’s hair out, and bite at just three months of age.
As the twins grew into toddlers, it got worse, causing a huge strain on the family. Sheila and Andy were living in fear after finding knives and scissors that George had hid under his bed that he said were meant to harm Jimmy. George would go from being violent one minute to expressing his love for his mother the next. The constant tantrums, outbursts, and biting fits led Sheila to depend on antidepressants to cope with her emotional pain. By then, she was desperate to find a way for the twins to channel their energy.
It was when she stumbled across a pamphlet for disco dance classes for kids that she decided to give it a try. Although George was not impressed with the idea, Jimmy finally found something he loved to do. Sheila admits that at first he wasn’t all too graceful, but he soon emerged to show his gift for the dance. He went on to win the national Disco Kid Championships and even had a documentary filmed about him.
Sheila claims Disco didn’t just help socialize Jimmy; it even helped him improve his school skills as well. She says she was the most worried about him, because his autism was the most severe. But after moving to the beat of his own drum, Jimmy has shined through his inhibitions.
Mara Papaleo, Cleveland State University