Learning About Autism: A Father's Journey

educated & empowered

The "That Thing You Do!" actor discusses his work with TACA (Talk About Curing Autism).

Feb 26, 2014 | 05:01 PM

Actor and writer Johnathon Schaech ("That Thing You Do!") shares his emotional journey of becoming a first-time parent with his wife, Julie Solomon, and his dedication to raising Autism awareness.

I am a witness to TACA’s help for families, including our own.

I have been a supporter of TACA for seven years now and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Since my wife Julie and I have had our first child, the amazing team at TACA has asked me to write a blog giving advice to new parents, talking about what I’ve have learned over the course of my wife’s pregnancy and the five months we’ve been blessed to call ourselves parents!

I’m lucky to call the experts at TACA friends, and even more blessed that they allow me to berate them with all sorts of questions and concerns about our new baby boy, Camden.

From the very first TACA event I attended in 2007, I took home this bumper sticker. It's been on the fridge since; I feel it says it all.

In 2007 the rate was 1 in 150...as of 2014, the numbers have risen to 1 in 88 (1 in every 54 boys). Yes, the numbers are rising, but I can confirm proudly that TACA has definitively raised awareness.

Our son was born this past September 2013 at Cedars Sinai. During our hospital tour, the other expecting parents were keenly aware of the multitude of medications, epidurals, Pitocin, etc., that are offered during the labor and birth process, as well as vaccinations and eye drops that are given to newborns unless requested otherwise. We knew all this going in, and all the parents we interacted with were also concerned and shared their thoughts.

Knowing we were having a boy was a little scarier—1 in 54 is a scary number. No one wants their child to suffer no matter what. However, no other conditions are rising so rapidly as in autism.

And it’s still this great big mystery.

Please keep in mind: I'm not an expert, but I have read a lot of the new parenting books and had already delved into a lot of the autism and vaccine books since becoming involved with TACA. Even though my attention span is that of a gnat, my wife really went the distance and literally read everything she could get her hands on. Not only is she a literary publicist by profession, but she is also one smart cookie! She was amazed with the information she found and validated the concerns I had.

So we are writing this blog—well, I’m writing it and my wife is trying to correct my spelling and make sure I don’t offend anyone. So simply—we want to inspire and empower any new parents to make the right decisions for their child and family regarding pediatrician selection and anything to do with their child’s health care. After all, we are the parents and should be concerned.

What inspires me is what I have learned from other parents. It is my goal to share. Here's what Julie and I have come up with when choosing a doctor:

  1. Find a doctor that works with you as a partner. You are the parents. The doctors are educated and should work with you on a better understanding of their process. It shouldn't be a dictatorship on either side. The doctors should be open and willing to listen to your concerns and help you with your decisions.

  2. Remember, it's almost like a marriage with your doctor. It’s give and take. (Just don't sleep with them. ;) )

  3. Most importantly, they should never push anything on you that you feel uncomfortable with. Their medical opinions are just that—opinions. They are not the end all be all. It is always your decision at the end of the day. If that is not connecting or you feel pressure on decisions without information, then look for a new pediatrician.

There are many concerns families face. One concern is vaccines. The best advice I received was to learn more about them, how they work, and why they are needed. Then find a doctor who will partner with you on your journey. Here is a great link for finding a doctor that fits your families’ views on vaccinating. 

One major question my wife and I had discussed was the option of an alternative or delayed vaccine schedule. The U.S. Government claims that one of the reasons why they recommend four to six vaccines at some visits is in part to protect those children who may not visit the doctor regularly due to many family factors, such as financial, social, or geographical. Governments are smart to set regulations for the masses to prevent major outbreaks and protect others, but those regulations don't always apply to every person, child, or family out there. If you are a parent who is willing and capable of taking your child to the pediatrician on a regular basis, then a delayed or alternative schedule could be a great fit for your family. There is a great book that TACA shared with us titled “The Vaccine Book” by Dr. Bob Sears. I highly recommend it to any parent who wants a better understanding of the process of vaccinating, the ingredients, the severity of the disease, and much more. It is not a pro or con vaccine book, rather a PRO-information book! This book will help you easily decide if you want to vaccinate, choose an alternative schedule, or not vaccinate at all.

I have heard many parents over the years with autistic children say they specifically blame the vaccines. That ever since their child got the “this or that” shot they were nonverbal, would not make eye contact, would stare away for hours, etc. and eventually would be diagnosed with autism. But these parents don’t focus on the past anymore. They all look to the future for their children and the process of getting them balanced, healthy and capable of enjoying life again.

In a conversation with a doctor I had at my first TACA function, he used the phrase “mercury preservative” (a.k.a. Thimerosal, a preservative currently found in about 60 percent of the flu vaccines), because it was one of the many controversial ingredients recently splashed in the headlines. He said, “Vaccines are intended to be a great medical gift, but we have never nor will ever be able to test how much an infant's immune system can handle. It's not so much the vaccines I'm worried about, it's the preservatives they put in them.” You can read all about preservatives in “The Vaccine Book” mentioned earlier (keep an eye out for what Dr. Sears says about aluminum).

Now Julie (my sweet southern belle) is from the great volunteer State of Tennessee and in a rural section out there, her cousin has a beautiful boy who is on the spectrum, and they’re about to have their second child. We are helping them with their awareness. We have learned so much about accessibility and financial constraints when it comes to some families who have children with autism. It really breaks my heart when a family feels alone. Well, they aren’t alone anymore—they've got us and TACA.

Now these are just my experiences; I can’t help but to be invested and moved by the personal conversations I have had with some of these families and the research I have done.

After all this experience, we have decided to vaccinate our child. That’s right! You heard me right! But...Julie and I decided to give Camden some (not all) of the recommended vaccines, and take this process extremely slow and spread them out over time. A great perk for us is that our pediatrician’s office will not give more than one vaccine at a time. We love the “built-in” alternative schedule at our pediatrician’s office that aligns with our decision as parents. Our pediatrician is Dr. Lauren Feder at the Center for Natural Family Medicine in Los Angeles. She was highly recommended by TACA and is now highly recommended by us!

Here is a great reminder checklist from TACA on vaccination choices.

I am a firm believer that if a child is diagnosed with any disease it's not the end of the world. I've actually seen it be a true gift—a gift of understanding the meaning of life; not only for the child, but for the parent. I’ve seen so many people take everything for granted, number one thing being their health. Unlike the parents I’ve met through TACA who all are incredible examples of true love. Unconditional love. Warrior love.

I always get scared thinking about not having done something for my son that I should have...I share all this to encourage new parents to learn, ask and challenge yourselves to grow with our ever changing and challenging environment. Take the time. Don’t be scared.

TACA has always simply asked me to help bring awareness. Autism is a puzzle and each child is a part of it. If we work together, get rid of the politics and fear, we stand a better chance of doing what my father the cop always told me, “Defend and protect God's little ones.”

If you suspect autism or have a child diagnosed with autism and want to learn more, please read: Introduction to Autism. I have seen many TACA kids make great strides forward getting connected to TACA! 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love, Johnathon Schaech (Husband to Jules and father of the greatest blessing I’ve ever been given, Camden.) 

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