Let's rewind to when Max was born. He was a healthy, smiling, loving little boy.
As time went on, at around 10-12 months old, we started to suspect that something may be wrong. At each doctor visit, we expressed our concerns. We were told that sometimes boys are a little delayed in some areas more than girls. Max has always had wonderful eye contact and looked at you when you spoke to him. That was one of the reasons our doctor wanted us to wait to have him tested.
We were told that they normally don't test for autism until the age of 2. Max was not speaking or mimicking like his sister had at that age. I decided that it was time to seek help elsewhere but wasn't sure where to start. I had no idea where to turn for help. I was frustrated because I knew we were losing precious time by doing nothing.
Photo submitted by AMANDA HERTZLER
Max Hertzler, left, 6, is pictured with his sister, Halle, 7, in July.
By the grace of God, I was reconnected with a friend from high school who was walking a similar path to ours. Her son also had autism, and I can't tell you how much of a tremendous help she was to us!
I spent countless hours on the phone, talked to many different people and prayed that somehow all of this would fall into place for Max. In July of 2009, Max started in-home therapy with early intervention. We had speech, occupational and special instruction therapists come into our home and work with Max each week. Each of these therapists were a blessing, and I knew that this is what we needed to be doing to get Max the proper help. He was making small strides of progress, and we were hopeful. It was one of Max's therapists who pointed us in the direction to having him tested for autism in Hershey by a pediatric psychologist.
A few weeks later on the day of our appointment, we left with a diagnosis. It was heart-wrenching to hear the words, "Your son has autism." No parent ever wants to hear that something is wrong with their child. However, we loved him just the same and left the doctor's office determined that we would do everything we could for our son.
We have had many wonderful people come into our lives the past four years. I truly believe that God places people in our paths for a reason. At 3 years old, Max transitioned into the TIU Preschool Program designed for children with autism. He spent three years there, and I can't express how much of a God send these individuals were to Max. He thrived there! And he learned so much. We are so thankful to each and every one there who helped him.
We had also started services with Juniata River Center and had a behavioral therapist come into our home to work with Max and to teach me how to approach different situations we would encounter throughout our day. She has been wonderful, and we are so blessed to still have her working with our son.
Max was doing so well! He was identifying numbers and letters. It was amazing to see him progress. We knew that he was intelligent and knew far more than we were giving him credit for. However, talking was still very difficult for him. He could say a few words and used some sign language.
In November, we took Max to a speech pathologist. I was told he had apraxia of speech. He was trying so hard to say things but it just wasn't coming for him, and he was getting frustrated. We had many praying that things would get easier for him in this area of his development.
A few short weeks later, Christmas of 2012, we were blessed with a miracle. Max started talking in sentences on Christmas Day. He was looking through a book he had received as a gift, and just like that starting speaking! It was a wonderful thing to be able to hear his sweet little voice. Everyday he adds to his vocabulary!
We have had such a wonderful support system and have had so many people praying for Max. Everyday he just keeps getting better. He is such a joy and a blessing. He recently transitioned into Kindergarten, and he is doing well with his transition. We are thankful for the teachers and educators who are helping him.
Max is a true testament to never give up hope! We have tried so many different things to help our son, from special diets, therapy and many doctor visits. Some of those things have worked for Max, and some have not. Getting Max diagnosed early was the key for him. I am thankful that people pushed us to seek help. The possibilities are endless for Max! We are extremely grateful.
Autism is such a wide spectrum. Each child is different and benefits from different types of things. You could say that Max wasn't your "typical" autism diagnosis since he had eye contact and sought out loving attention. This special need is on the rise. Please, if you feel that your child may be affected by this, seek help right away! It can only help these precious children.
Amanda Hertzler resides in Burnham with her husband, Brandon, and children, Max and Halle.
The Hertzlers are members of Lewistown CMA Church and enjoy golfing and family outings together.