- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - When her daughter, Lexi was diagnosed with autism at 2 and a-half years old, Paragould-native Ginnie Rudi said she was devastated.

Lexi is both Ginnie and her husband, Eric’s first child, so they didn’t know what to expect. Eric’s sisters had suggested to the couple that based on their daughter’s symptoms, she should be tested for autism.

According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism rates climbed nearly 30 percent between 2008 and 2010 and have more than doubled since the turn of the century. The disorder is now believed to affect one of every 68 8-year-olds - up from one in 88 just two years earlier.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s website defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Ginnie said that now 12-year-old Lexi is considered to have severe autism, with being predominantly non-verbal communication-wise, having aggression issues as she’s unable to verbalize her needs and can be destructive at times.

When she was little, Lexi also had the condition called Pica, where she would eat things that aren’t considered food, such as cardboard and paper. She also has severe fears and anxieties but is unable to communicate what they are.

Speech pathologist Shani Barnhill said she has always admired her brother and her sister-in-law because they are great parents.

“A lot of times with autism families, there will be a split in the marriage because they have so many issues,” she told the Paragould Daily Press (http://bit.ly/1pRrK41 ). “They have such been good parents to her and their son who has to deal with that also.”

The Rudis said their 10-year-old son, Austen is also very supportive of his big sister.

“They fuss every once in a while, but he’s all about helping Sister do whatever she needs done,” Ginnie said.

Ever since Lexi’s diagnosis, Barnhill said the family has stepped in to help out.

“I think they’re luckier than a lot of parents because they can count on us for a night out or a night away, (or) if something came up that they had to go out of town, we can keep her,” Barnhill said. “Not a lot of parents have that. She (Lexi) feels comfortable enough with us.”

Ginnie said it’s difficult to do certain activities out in public with an autistic child like Lexi, like grocery shopping, eating at certain restaurants or attending regular church services.

“She’s gotten better about crowds, but there’s still a lot of times where it’s very rough, and she lets you know very quickly that she’s had enough,” she said. “Once her anxiety level gets up there, she has a hard time coming back down.”

Barnhill said her family is very open about sharing Lexi’s story due to the fact that many parents of autistic children are stared at due to the child’s behavior in public.

“In fact, the child cannot handle the stimulation around them and that’s their only way to communicate that ‘I’ve had enough, and I’m stressed,’” Barnhill said. “It’s not that they’re being a brat - they’re just simply overstimulated and need to get out that sensory overload.”

Barnhill said the family has had such great support from the Greene County Tech School District where both children attend as well as Griffin Memorial Methodist Church over the years.

Ginnie said Lexi loves to swim, watch VeggieTales, play on an iPad as well as use other electronics.

As part of sharing Lexi’s story with others, Barnhill has recently been voted onto the Autism Association of Northeast Arkansas (AANEA) board to help spread awareness about autism in the community.

The organization sponsors the annual Autism Walk and Family Fun Day in April during Autism Awareness Month.

On Saturday, April 12 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Craighead County Fairgrounds, families can participate in not only the walk, but a silent auction, inflatables, a sensory booth, a raffle and laser tag too.

Ginnie said she enjoys the walk with her family.

“We can go, and she can have a meltdown and it’s not a big deal,” she said. “Other parents may ask if they can help. But, it’s just like a normal thing - you just go on and do. It’s a day for them that they can play and be themselves.”

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Information from: Paragould Daily Press, http://www.paragoulddailypress.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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