By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen
AUTISM ACADEMY – Kneeling in the bedroom, pounding her fist on the floor, crying aloud, and repeatedly echoing, “I want my son back.” Consoled by her husband, John and Kimberly Baltzley heard similar diagnoses on the autism spectrum one-by-one for three different children.
An indescribable puzzlement penetrates many parents upon receiving an autism diagnosis of a child.
She described how every parent wants to see their children grow, go to college, get married, and have children.
As a result, “Everything in you rises up and fights,” Kimberly said.
With the support of her husband, it wasn’t long before she realized that her children are just as adorable and amazing as any other.
Now, Timothy is 17, Matthew is 15, and their daughter is 14.
Two of their three of their children have been officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“When our oldest son was diagnosed there were no services available,” Kimberly Baltzley said. “I was 19-years-old and newly married.”
Her husband described the early years of their marriage as the poster family for self-advocacy.
Autism introduces special challenges to the relationship, and not every couple can cope with it.
“There were very low spots for us,” he said. “And our marriage struggled.”
The Baltzley family transitioned through a rollercoaster of experiences while learning how to identify with a sense of self, maintain a healthy marriage, and focus on family.
“We committed to believe in one another, and we dealt with our issues by talking through them in counseling,” John said. “We refuse to give up on one another.”
According to the Baltzleys, finding a rhythm that works for the family is important.
John’s childhood consisted of growing up with a sibling who struggled with a severe mental disorder. As a result, he gained awareness at an early age of the challenges that come with social disorders, developmental delays, and cognitive disabilities.
“I didn’t want to give up on life because our family looked different than other families,” he said. “One day we made the decision to just make sure our children are happy.”
According to Kimberly, who also serves as associate pastor of Grace North Church in Gilbert, the couple continues esteeming love as their priority.
Challenging their children academically comes second.
“I learned early in marriage that finding balance is a myth,” Kimberly said. “If one child is sick, all your attention will shift toward that child.”
Instead of trying to find a seemingly impossible sense of balance, Kimberly encourages parents to find harmony.
“We had really bad experiences with other schools,” she said. “Our local public schools never told us about the option of the empowerment scholarship.”
An Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) is an account similar to a checking account.
An ESA consists of 90 percent of the state funding that would have been received by the school the child previously attended.
Prior to enrolling at the Autism Academy, their sons experienced unmanaged behavioral issues, were overlooked, and isolated from the general student population.
“Since we came to the Autism Academy it’s the first time our children had friends,” Kimberly said. “Even with all-inclusive classrooms you can’t force students to have meaningful interaction with one another.”
Now, their children attend birthday parties, social gatherings, and participate in various activities with their peers.
“We went through a whole lot of trial and error,” John said. “It took time to find our rhythm.”
John and Kimberly Baltzley discovered the Autism Academy through a popup advertisement on Facebook, promoting tuition-free-specialized education for children with autism.
Together, the couple inspires parents of children with autism.
“Your best is good enough,” Kimberly said.
If you’re interested in reading more stories of successful parents who strive to give their child with autism a better education and life, then continue reading our blog. If you want to send you child to a school that will provide an education for children with autism, then learn more about the Autism Academy.