By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda’s Amanda Farris said she noticed the signs her daughter Hailey was exhibiting a few years after she was born.
“She wouldn’t make eye contact, she didn’t want to be held or snuggle,” Farris said. “By the age of 3, I realized that something was wrong.”
Trips to the doctor and a slew of tests confirmed what she had suspected: Hailey, now 7, was diagnosed with a mild form of autism.
“I call it my ‘poor me moment,’” Farris said. “I was told she was a cat living in a dog’s world. I left feeling she’d never have friends, she’d never play on the playground.”
But Farris said she turned what at first seemed like insurmountable odds into determination. She said she buckled down, did her research, leaned on her family for support and then immediately launched into addressing the issue, crucial she said for the development of children with autism.
“I just started reading everything I could,” she said. “I took advice from every single thing I saw then figured out what made sense for me.”
Farris also reached out to the Summit Educational Resources in Getzville, a school for children with more severe versions of the disorder, and she tried different tactics, which sometimes change each day.
For those with autism and for Hailey in particular, Farris said, the hum of a refrigerator, background noise for most, can be as intense as a loud talker. But heightened sensitivity to stimulus is just one of the challenges the family faces.
“It can be too loud, it can be too bright,” Farris said. “In my daughter’s case, she’s highly functioning, or neuro typical. She looks like an ordinary child. But I think people need to start understanding that just because they look normal doesn’t mean they’re processing (information) the same way. Every child or person with autism is different. There is no black and white.”
But what is clear is Farris’ resoluteness to shed light on the issue of autism. With the United Nations declaration six years ago that April 2 would officially be known as World Autism Awareness Day, she decided she’d try to find a way to localize the initiative.
Farris said she approached Mayor Rob Ortt’s office earlier this year, as she searched for a way to advance the community’s understanding of autism, when he agreed take part in the worldwide “Light It Up Blue” campaign.
The agreement was highlighted on Tuesday, when the blue lights adorning City Hall and the blue clothing of government employees inside of it were prevalent, in an effort to bolster awareness. Ortt read a proclamation honoring Farris and her daughter during the city council meeting.
Nationally, April is also known as autism awareness month, with a walk to raise money for education and research scheduled for April 27 by Summit Educational Resources.
“It’s all about advocacy and education,” Farris said.
For more information on the walk go to www.summited.org, and for autism resources www.lightitupblue.org.MORE INFORMATION • For more information on World Autism Awareness Day or the "Light it up Blue" campaign, visit www.summited.org and www.lightitupblue.org. Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.