Anthony's Army in Memory of Mike 'PopPop' Oesterle
Anthony's Army is back again this year to help raise funds for Autism research and other resources. Anthony's Army sadly lost one of our biggest suppoerters and one of Anthony's best buddies in this world just 2 days after our 2020 Autism Speaks Walk. This year we are not only walking for Anthony, but in memory of his Pop Pop, Mike Oesterle too.
For those that don't know Anthony's story, well let me tell you about my youngest rockstar, Anthony Nathaniel. When Anthony was about 2, his daycare teachers and I started to notice things that raised some concerns. He wouldn’t make eye contact, his speech development was delayed, he began to show repetitive behaviors, he had daily uncontrollable angry outbursts (way different than your expected terrible twos), and his sleep patterns were non-existent. Most people brushed this off with saying, “Oh, he is just a boy; he will outgrow this.” But this mom knew that there was something special about our little boy. When Anthony started VPK at the age of four, his struggles began to grow, and his teachers reached out to me to ask if I had him tested yet. I hadn’t because we wanted to see how he did in a school setting first and, to be honest, we were still in denial a little bit. He struggled at VPK, and it would get worse once he got home, as his frustrations would come to a boiling point and he would literally melt down each evening. It was hard to watch him go through this, especially since our efforts to calm him down wouldn’t work. To add to his daily struggles, he wasn’t sleeping. Between night terrors, up and down through the night, crying and screaming out, Anthony’s body and mind was not getting any rest. The best way I can describe it is his brain would never shut down; his brain was on overdrive and he just never had a good night’s sleep.
We finally decided to go ahead with the testing, the sleep study and the psychologist evaluation about 3 years ago. The sleep study results confirmed what we already knew – his brain just does not rest. Out of 7.5 hours, Anthony slept peacefully for less than 4.5 hours. In fact, his first wake-up was just 20 minutes after falling asleep. I can’t even imagine functioning on that little bit of sleep every night. Now imagine being only 5 and not understanding why you’re unable to get a good night’s sleep. He then completed the psychologist evaluation and it felt like forever waiting on the results. I don’t even know how long I sat in the parking lot of the psychologist’s office with Anthony's report, his official diagnosis. Our little man was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD predominantly inattention presentation, sensory processing disorder (a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses), and auditory processing disorder (a condition where the brain is unable to process auditory information in a normal way). This mom’s intuition had been right for years. But why when you already know the potential answers to something does it still tear you up when you read it in black and white?
Now what? Well first, we fight to get him whatever therapies and help he needs. My first step was getting the ball rolling with his IEP and in-school therapies. But my heart knew this wasn’t enough. My sister-in-law suggested we do the Autism Speaks walk in Orlando and fight for Anthony. And so we did. Anthony’s Army was created and we were beyond grateful for all of the support we received in such a short amount of time. We completed our 1st walk in November 2019.
Since Anthony's original diagnosis, we have been able to get his IEP in place within the school district and in even bigger news, he was accepted into Puzzle Box Academy, a private school specializng in the education of those with special needs including Autism. What they are doing at this school is nothing short of amazing! Now the school isn't all of the answers for Anthony, but it's the right place for his education. We still have so much to figure out between therapies and educating ourselves on what we can do at home to help too.
So here we are back for our 3rd walk with an even more special meaning this year. If you would like to be a part of Anthony's Army, please join our team or if you would like to donate instead, any amount you can donate is greatly appreciated. Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. They are dedicated to increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; being the catalyst for research breakthroughs, increasing early-childhood screening and timely interventions, improving the transition to adulthood and ensuring access to reliable information and services throughout the lifespan. Your support enables Autism Speaks to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
Again, any amount you can spare is appreciated and I thank you in advance for helping us. Anthony is a pretty amazing little boy with some colorful differences. We will always fight to help him embrace those differences