The Schnipkes are learning the “new norm” with Anthony, back right, who has autism. His parents, Sabrina and Jason, along with brother, Collin, are tackling it head on. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)
The Schnipkes are learning the “new norm” with Anthony, back right, who has autism. His parents, Sabrina and Jason, along with brother, Collin, are tackling it head on. (DHI Media/Nancy Spencer)
OTTOVILLE — “Your child is on the spectrum.”

These are words most parents dread. For Sabrina Schnipke and Jason Schnipke, it was exactly what they wanted to hear.

“If you don’t have a diagnosis, you can’t get your child the help they need,” Sabrina said. “I took Anthony to several doctors and they always told me, ‘Oh, he’ll be fine. He’ll catch up.’

Anthony was not catching up. He was almost 6 years old when he was finally diagnosed.

“I was picking Anthony up from preschool and I finally asked his teacher if she thought Anthony was OK,” Sabrina recalled. “Apparently, they are not allowed to tell you they think your child is autistic. You have to start the conversation because as soon as I did, she let out a big sigh and we sat down and she told me everything she had observed for the last two years. That’s when the ball started rolling.”

Sabrina saw things when Anthony was very young that made her concerned.

“He didn’t talk, he didn’t babble,” she said. “But he only checked off so many of the eight markers for austism so we were told he was fine. He does look you in the eye, he likes hugs and he laughs a lot. But there are other things he has that have required quite a bit of therapy.”

Once there was a diagnosis, the Schnipkes could start getting Anthony the therapy and other services he needed. He took years of speech therapy. Sabrina recalls one of the first of those sessions.

“The therapist came out and told me he thought Anthony was deaf. I went into the room and he kept calling Anthony ‘Tony.’ I asked him why and he said he assumed we called him Tony because it was common to shorten Anthony. I told him to call him Anthony. I was insistent since he was born that his name was Anthony. As soon as he did, Anthony would respond and do what he asked,” she said. “Anthony didn’t know who Tony was. We had never called him Tony.”

Anthony also has convergence deficiency in his eyes. When he was younger, he had double vision.

“That was another thing we learned could be part of Anthony’s austism. He was always running into things and reaching for things and missing,” she said. “Now we know he was seeing two of everything. He didn’t know which one was the real one. Everything we learned made things make sense. We weren’t happy Anthony was autistic but at least we were doing something about it and getting him help.”

Sabrina said the doctor Anthony saw to help strengthen his eye muscles to correct his double vision taught her patience.

“There was a series of exercises Anthony had to do each time or he couldn’t leave. We would sit there for hours and he never got angry or short. He just kept telling Anthony that he could leave when he finished his work,” she said. “There were some nights we left there after 9 p.m.”

Like many with austism, Anthony also has sensory issues. He used to put his fingers in his ears to block out sounds but fireworks were OK. Now he wears earbuds and listens to music if he’s going to be in a noisy environment.

He has food aversions he’s working on, too. The usual menu was chicken nuggets, french fries and french toast sticks. He’s broadened his horizons, according to his mother.

He also doesn’t like tags in shirts and prefers sweats and athletic wear to jeans. Getting a haircut is very troublesome for the 16-year-old.

“He feels every hair when it falls on his skin,” Sabrina said. “Can you imagine? Every single one.”

Change is also difficult.

“I was taking Collin (Anthony’s younger brother) to get his pictures taken at Walmart when he was little. We parked and I wanted to go in the door right by the photography studio and as we tried to go in, Anthony had a melt down. He laid on the ground and was screaming. I asked him if he would get up if we were leaving and he did and when we were in the car on the way to grandma’s house, he told me, ‘Mom, you went in the wrong door.’ I hadn’t even thought about it. We had always gone in the other door. So I grabbed up my mom and we went back and went in the door we always do and everything was fine.”

Antony also has many gifts. He has a near eidetic memory and plays the drums by ear. The first time he sat down in front of drums, he played an entire Iron Maiden song.

Collin, who is 11, doesn’t mind having a brother who may take a little more time from his parents.

“Collin is a big help to Anthony. He reminds Anthony of what he has to do and things he has to prepare for,” Sabrina said. “He’s also a huge advocate for his brother and others.”

“Collin is a great brother and a very old soul,” Jason said. “He’s forever talking about when he was here before and when he was old he was here. He’s very mature for his age.”

The Schnipkes continue to educate themselves on autism but agree with the saying, “Once you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.”

“Every single kid is different,” they said.

April is World Autism Month. A new government survey pegs autism prevalence at 1 in 45. Older data only included those receiving services, not all those diagnosed.

According to autismspeaks.org, the possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers:

— By 6 months, no social smiles or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people

— By 6 months, limited or no eye contact

— By 9 months, no sharing of vocal sounds, smiles or other nonverbal communication

— By 12 months, no babbling

— By 12 months, no use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving, etc.)

— By 12 months, no response to name when called

— By 16 months, no words

— By 24 months, no meaningful, two-word phrases

— Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills

Possible signs of autism at any age:

— Avoids eye contact and prefers to be alone

— Struggles with understanding other people’s feelings

— Remains nonverbal or has delayed language development

— Repeats words or phrases over and over (echolalia)

— Gets upset by minor changes in routine or surroundings

— Has highly restricted interests

— Performs repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning

— Has unusual and often intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

While his parents have been diligent about helping their son achieve goals, Anthony has learned to cope with many of his triggers through the help of his peers, teachers and others at Ottoville Local Schools. Learn how Anthony became “Big Tony,” much to his mother’s dismay, in Saturday’s Herald.