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Dylan Heuke is giggling hard at his own joke. His cheeks redden and he seems unable to stifle his laughter. His parents and siblings laugh with him and at his amusement. He finally regains his breath and slaps his mother, Amanda Heuke, on the back good-naturedly.
“Good times,” he said, “good times.” And this sets the laughter off in everyone again.
“I mean, he’s funny.” Amanda said. “Who would not want this around?”
The Heuke family is having “good times,” but it hasn’t always been so easy. Dylan, 7, was diagnosed with autism three years ago, which set the family on an unknown and rocky journey to get to this point, the point of five smiling faces in their living room in Radcliff.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and the family is working within that mission to share their story and find others with similar
Brooklyn Heuke, 12, a student at J.T. Alton Middle School, asked her volleyball team to wear socks printed with a puzzle-piece pattern on them, a symbol for autism awareness. She said she felt she needed to do something to recognize the month.
“We have hard times and I know some people have it worse,” Brooklyn said. “I just wanted to support it.”
Amanda and her husband, Brian Heuke, are working on their own ways of spreading the message, and Amanda said she was excited Brooklyn wanted to help.
“That was a big deal for me,” she said.
Amanda and Brian recently approached Radcliff City Council to discuss the resources for those with autism in the city. They hope to see the creation of some community events for the cause and the connection of families with autistic children. The couple started a Facebook page called “Dylan’s Journey: Your journey is just as important! Support AUTISM!” to help create these connections.
Working to raise awareness is something the two have been considering since Dylan received his diagnosis at age 4.
When Dylan was about two and a half, Amanda knew he was exhibiting odd behaviors and symptoms, she said. He was delayed in many areas of development, such as walking and talking, and his social skills weren’t typical. He often preferred to be alone, and he didn’t like being touched. For a long time, Amanda and Brian couldn’t hug or kiss their son.
“And that was very hard to go through,” she said.
Brian, who worked while Amanda stayed home, didn’t see as many signs as she did. He tried to explain away what she was telling him, he said. It took him awhile to accept Dylan wasn’t a typical child.
Through research, Brian and Amanda suspected Dylan was autistic before he received an official diagnosis in Louisville.
“Everything kept leading us down that path,” Brian said.
The diagnosis was something of a relief, to have a cause for Dylan’s symptoms and a plan for how to manage them. But it wasn’t easy.
“Even though I knew,” Amanda said, “I still went through struggles.” Her own experiences have inspired her to reach out to others, to give and receive help. Learning Dylan is autistic caused “a lot of tears, a lot of emotions, a lot of asking why.”
Three years removed from the diagnosis, Amanda said she could not imagine him any other way. He has made a lot of strides in his development. He’s starting to read. The boy who once rejected physical contact now climbs on his mom’s lap for a hug and wrestles with brother, Ethan, 8, on the couch.
“He is so loving now,” Amanda said. “He is such a loving boy.”
He’s also tried sports and enjoys the trophies he receives from participating.
Life with Dylan still can be tricky at times. His mind is very literal; when Amanda recently told him his school, Vine Grove Elementary, would be taking make-up pictures, he became very upset at the thought of wearing makeup to school. Bedtime involves a long, complicated ritual that can’t be altered in any way.
Difficulties still arise, which is why the Heukes wants to reach out to others, to share what has worked with Dylan and learn what has worked for others.
“I think it’s important for every one of the kids to have a chance and not be left behind,” she said.
Some resources, along with those in public schools, exist in Hardin County. Camp TESSA is a camp for autistic children in the summer, and a new support group, the A-Team, meets at 6:30 p.m. every third Tuesday at the Hardin County Public Library in Elizabethtown.
Brian said the couple has talked about trying to help spread information for a long time. And it’s not just to help others, Amanda said.
“We need each other,” she said. “I need them just as much as they need me.”
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or email@example.com.