Understanding Autism By Chana Bennet-Rumley

My name is Chana Bennett-Rumley. I am a Beauty and Lifestyle Influencer from Denver, Colorado, 38-year-old elder-millennial and the mother to 5-year-old fraternal twin boys, Rocco and Rory. They are my whole reason for existing. Our situation is unique: All three of us have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the past 3 years.

The Discovery 

It began in 2016 when the boys were two-years-old. Despite giving my all to parenting and doing everything I could to “hold it all together,” my life as a mom wasn’t going spectacularly well. Since they were my first children, I didn’t realize just how different our first 18 months had been until medical intervention. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that parents of children with ASD typically notice a developmental problem before their child’s first birthday. This held true for my boys, which explained why my life felt so stressful. Even then, it took another six months to admit that we needed help. The wake-up call came when we were kicked out of a very nice child care facility. It served as a turning point for us. I started taking recommendations from our doctor more seriously. According to the CDC, about 1 in 36 boys have been identified with ASD. What makes my boys’ case rare is that both fraternal twins will be affected less than one-third of the time.

It runs in the Family

 After the boys received diagnoses of ASD, I started recognizing autistic traits in myself. It took a while to see because ASD presents differently in males than in females. I had been treated for mental health problems since I was a young adult. For the past 15 years, I had been seeing doctors and therapists who diagnosed me with various mental health disorders that we expected to get progressively worse over time, even on medication. Not once, in those 15 years was autism mentioned as a possible cause of my difficulties.  While I never fully agreed with the mental health diagnoses I was given, I found that once I was given the diagnosis of mental illness, I lost the ability to be a self-advocate. My opinions on my own mental health were not considered credible. It wasn’t until I did some intense research on my own, that I suspected autism for myself. 

Finding a Diagnosis 

My suspicions led me down a rough path to a diagnosis. I had to demand a referral from my primary care doctor, and then I had to see a couple of other professionals to find someone willing to test me. It was far from easy, due to a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is that, according to the CDC, only 1 in 151 females will be diagnosed with autism. Additionally, I am considered high functioning, something even more uncommon to find in women on the spectrum (9:1 male to female). High functioning means that I have a developmental disability with no intellectual disability and a high IQ. This is why I lived 37 years without a proper diagnosis, regardless of the fact that I was actively being treated by many mental health professionals. 

The Truth

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The terrifying truth is that if I had never had my boys, I might still be living with an incorrect diagnosis. Females on the spectrum tend to do something called Camouflaging which makes ASD harder to find in females.  The thought of living my entire life with the wrong diagnosis is very scary because I felt helpless for such a long time. Many people thought I was wasting my time seeking a professional diagnosis, and I was even told that a diagnosis wouldn’t matter. However, I am glad that I kept fighting because it has made a world of difference in my perspective of myself and others. Honestly, it wasn’t until my ASD diagnosis that I started to feel like I knew myself. 

Understanding Autism

As a trio, my kids and I cover a lot of the spectrum. Autism is broken down into 3 diagnostic levels. I am a level 1, formerly once known as Asperger’s Syndrome and is also considered to be the least severe. Rory is a level 2. Rocco is a level 3 and non-verbal. This makes life very interesting for the man in our lives, Nathan Rumley who is the glue to our family unit. He is the reason we are successful even against the odds. Not only is he the twins’ father, but he has also been my partner for over 17 years – another rarity, as the majority of autistic people do not have successful long-term interpersonal relationships. While the boys and I may be rare, Nathan is one-in-a-million. He could not be a better autism advocate and his support is absolutely essential in our present and future success as a family.  I feel very lucky to have him in our corner as I share our lives with the world. My hope is that our story can inspire and encourage others whose lives are affected by Autism. You can follow me @themillennialtwinmom to learn about more resources to better understand autism.

 

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