RALEIGH, N.C. — April is National Autism Awareness Month. This year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about one in 36 children in the United States are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to 2020 data.
One North Carolina family opened up to Spectrum News 1 about 5-year-old Benaiah, who was diagnosed with autism.
They explained how his diagnosis shifted their lives.
“It literally affects every single aspect of your life. Our lives now don’t look anything like our lives before, not that they are bad or that they are worse in any way, but that they are very much different than how they used to be,” father Zach Daugherty explained.
“Takes a lot more pre-planning now before we go places, you know we have to think about everything, we think about drive time, we think about length of activity, we think about food, before, during and after,” he added.
Doctors diagnosed Benaiah with regressive autism when he was two years old, but his parents say they didn’t catch it initially.
“We had no idea what that meant, but it means that his first 18 months he was above all the markers he was progressing at an accelerating pace, and then right around the two-year mark it was like a light switched flip and they regress back and they lose skills that they had,” Zach said.
Benaiah has trouble communicating and expressing himself through talking. He still loves to wrestle, play tag, jump on the trampoline and swing on the swings like most kids.
As parents of a child with autism, they need to carefully plan even simple tasks. Benaiah’s mom, Misty Daugherty, said something like a day at the park doesn’t look like everybody else’s.
“You don’t think about things like public restrooms that are not set up for 5-year-olds or playgrounds that are not set up for a 5-year-old to swing in the handicapped swing. And the list can just go on and on how life just gets a little bit harder out in public, and so you tend to want to go stay inward and stay in at home,” Misty Daugherty said.
Realizing there are other families who experience the feeling of trying to figure out parenting children with autism, the family took advantage of their family business, Puzzle Pop.
They make and sell gourmet popcorn at special events and farmers’ markets. They have a puzzle piece at the center of their logo, which is the accepted symbol for autism. The family hopes it raises questions from their customers who seek them out.
“People come up, they sample the flavors, they like to talk, and chit-chat and when we put it out on our sign about our autism research and awareness and then our name and our puzzle piece. We get a lot of questions. They ask us about autism, which gives us a chance to share,” Zach Daugherty said.
When the Daugherty’s created this business, they knew they wanted to honor their son. They donate a percentage of Puzzle Pop profits to autism research and awareness.
“As we become more aware of it, we’re able to better meet those needs, and provide a better quality of life for him and for the children and the families that are working with it,” Zach Daugherty said. “It’s hard for the parents, and we just want a message of hope to be put out there.”
“We want people to know that if you’re dealing with autism in your family, you’re not alone,” he explained.