Inside Columbia Magazine February 2009 : Page 115

THE PRICE OF RAISING PARENTS AND LOCAL AGENCIES TEAM UP TO CARE FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN, BUT THE PERSONAL AND FINANCIAL COSTS ARE ENORMOUS K imberly Matthews has 23 Jesus Christs on her refrigerator door. The magnets all look the same: a brown-haired Jesus wearing blue clothes with arms wide open, stuck to the door in all positions. It seems like a lot, but Matthews needs all the help she can get in performing her many tasks as a working single mother. Matthews has two children; one of them, Thomas Jackson, is autistic. In order to support 5-year-old Thomas and his younger sister, Malinda, Matthews works full time as a nurse practitioner. She works so hard that she hasn’t been in her bed for two months; she’s just been napping at the couch. Sometimes she cries, and then moves on. Everything is more complicated when a child has autism. Something as simple as going to the park can take so much energy. She has to fight for him everywhere, including at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, where he just started kindergarten, to make sure he is not being treated as a child with behavioral problems. She has to show the world that his problem is a disease, that his ‘RAIN MAN’ R reactions to the world are not because he wants to react that way. But showing the world isn’t easy. “I don’t think Rain Man wanted to be Rain Man,” she says. “He just couldn’t help it.” Luckily, Matthews gets help. She has a good network of friends that she says she can call “love.” Along with doctors, friends and people who work with her son, her faith is one of the things that helps her go on. That is why she needs the 23 Jesus magnets. ight now, however, Matthews has her back turned to the Christ-covered fridge while she puts pizza rolls in the oven. Sometimes she cooks healthy meals, but sometimes she just has to use the frozen stuff. She thinks most working sin- gle moms are like that. In front of her, the dining room looks like it probably has not been used for dining in a while. On the table are children’s bags and jackets and papers and a laptop. Around it sit boxes and boxes that hold Matthews’ bills and so many other papers she hasn’t been able to keep track of for such a long time now. In the living room, the kids only have some space to play because women from the neighborhood have come over to help Matthews clean up. She doesn’t have the time to do that unless a respite care provider comes over to watch the kids. By Gabriela Lessa l Photos By L.G. Patterson INSIDE COLUMBIA February 2009 115

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