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Written by CAROL POMEDAY   
Wednesday, 11 September 2013 18:41

Saukville family has found reward in dealing with son’s disorder

    Kevin and Julie Haldeman of Saukville are hoping to sell at least 64 tickets to the independent film “The United States of Autism.”

    That is the number of tickets that must be pre-sold online for the Marcus Theater in Saukville to show the film on Thursday, Oct. 3. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.tugg.com.


    The two-hour documentary film, which received a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh grant, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.


    The couple’s son Casey, 6, has autism. They hope the film will help people understand the challenges autistic children and their families face. The Haldemans are sponsoring showings in
Saukville and Madison, where family members live.


    The film follows filmmaker Richard Everts’ 11,000-mile, 40-day journey across America to visit 20 families and individuals living with autism to find answers for his autistic son Tommy.

Those interviewed come from a broad cultural and racial spectrum and includes Mormon, Muslim, Hispanic, African-American and Chinese families.

    Each person shows how autism has shaped his or her world, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.


    “If 64 people are there and 10 of them are intrigued enough to dig a little deeper into understanding it and have a dialogue with their family and friends, that would be wonderful,” Kevin said.


    “What people can expect is a very diverse look at autism and their families, and how each family is working to do the best within their family and community to help their child become the best they can be.”


    The Haldemans knew very little about the disorder — called the autism spectrum because of the diverse ways it affects children — until Casey was diagnosed at 14 months.


    Until then, Casey was developing normally, his parents said. But at 14 months, he was no longer making eye contact, preferred being alone and was doing odd repetitive behaviors, Julie said.


    They have since learned that most children with autism don’t show signs of the disorder until somewhere between 14 and 24 months, which has prompted some people to suspect vaccinations are the cause.


    “There are lots of hypotheses about what triggers it,” Kevin said. “The film doesn’t go into that.”


    Casey, the youngest of four children, is doted on by his siblings — Ben, 17, who is a junior at Grafton High School, Gabi, 9, and Colin, 8, who attend St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Grafton.


    Casey is a special education kindergarten student at Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington, where he was in the early childhood program for three years.


    This year, he will receive speech, physical and occupational therapies during the school day and will slowly be introduced into a regular classroom.


    Casey likes routine and any changes must be done with baby steps, his parents said.


    When Casey was born, it appeared the Haldemans had the perfect family.


    “We do have the perfect family,” Julie said. “I can’t imagine our family without Casey.


    “At first, you’re lost and your heart aches for the child because you want the best for your child. The support we have received from everyone — the schools, our pediatrician, friends and families — make you realize how blessed your family is.


    “Casey has grown so much and has made such wonderful progress. He’s happy. He’s a happy boy.”


    Through the state’s Birth to 3 program administered by Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Casey had intensive therapy at home until he turned 3.


    Someone must be with Casey 24/7, his parents said.


    “He has no fear. He will run into the street if no one is watching,” Kevin said. “That’s why we put up a fence. We want to keep him safe, but don’t want him to feel trapped.


    “Socially, Casey is great. He likes being with people.”


    Because Casey requires so much time and energy, the Haldemans said, it’s a balancing act to give equal time to their children.


    “We try to give all our children individual time. It’s important that they know they’re all loved equally,” Kevin said. “We communicate a lot to them about that.”


    “In some ways, we’re a split family,” Julie said.


“If the other children want to go someplace where Casey won’t be comfortable, one of us stays home with Casey. It’s not fair to the other children to not go or to cut something short, and it’s not fair to Casey to make him go.”


    Ben, Gabi and Colin said they enjoy being with their little brother and so do their friends.


    “Everybody loves Casey,” said Ben, who added he feels responsible for Casey’s safety because he’s the oldest.


     Casey is not verbal, but the Haldemans believe he understands everything they say. They are focusing on communication skills, hoping Casey will be less frustrated if he can let people know what he wants. That may be verbally or through sign language.


    Over the years, the couple have taken on different roles with Casey. Kevin is his advocate, making sure Casey and other autistic children get the help they need.


    Julie works with his various therapists to improve Casey’s skills.


    “I think in that way, we balance each other well,” Julie said.


    Information on “The United States of Autism” is available at www.usofautism.com. The film produced by the Tommy Foundation gives 25% of ticket proceeds to local autism organizations or families.


Image Information: SIX-YEAR-OLD Casey Haldeman (center) gets plenty of support and attention from his Saukville family in coping with his autism. Casey’s family members include (clockwise from lower left) brothers Colin and Ben, father Kevin, mother Julie and sister Gabi.         Photos by Sam Arendt

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