Quentin Harris noticed the small things at first.
His daughter, Quinn, didn’t answer when her name was called.
She rocked forth and back and sometimes waved her arms.
She had a laserlike focus when she watched TV. So much so, that Harris could wave his hand in front of her and she wouldn’t blink.
“It rang a bell but I didn’t know what it was,” said Harris, who lives in Lithonia with his wife and two children.
Eventually, Quinn, now 3, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a condition that affects more than 3.5 million Americans.
Harris and four other metro parents hope to raise awareness about autism. They are participating in a social media campaign by the Marcus Autism Center called “This Is Autism.”
The photo series, which is being launched during National Autism Awareness Month, is on CHOA’s and the Marcus Autism Center’s Facebook pages. It captures each child’s greatest achievement after undergoing therapy.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s social interaction skills, communication and behavior.
For the children and their families, like the Harrises, each milestone matters.
Harris said, for instance, after the diagnosis, some family members said they had noticed things in Quinn’s behavior but never spoke up. He also had to correct some “old-schoolers” who used the word “retarded.”
“I had to be clear that that is not an acceptable word and that autism is different than having a mental disability,” he said. “There has been a bit of an education curve for some people. It’s also enlightened and opened my mind a lot.”
In the series, Harris says that before going to therapy at the Marcus Autism Center, he had a hard time dropping off Quinn at day care. “Most days, I would miss work and stay with her because she was so upset. Now, she initiates the hug and kiss when I drop her off.”
Dr. Nathan Call, interim clinical director at Marcus, thinks the photo series is a great way to show how autism can affect individuals and families. “Some of the things that people take for granted can be challenges for families of children with autism.”
According to its website, the center treats more than 5,700 a year.
Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 children, and early diagnosis is important.
Keely Wright’s son, Isaac, is 7. A year ago, Isaac wasn’t speaking, and while he could read words, he couldn’t string them together in a sentence.
“He was so quiet, he was in his own world, really,” said his mother. He’s been going to the Marcus Autism Center for about a year, and “it’s completely changed our lives. He’s grown so much.”
Now he asks for things. He can tell his mother that he has a bellyache or what he wants to eat.
“I hope the pictures of Isaac represent and where he’s come in his journey helps others,” said Wright, of Powder Springs. “I hope that people will get their kids tested if they start to see signs, and I hope parents will talk to kids about how to approach kids with autism.”