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Fighting for Cole’s future

A family's quest

By Lance Martin/Daily Herald Senior Writer
Published/Last Modified on Sunday, October 12, 2008 11:21 AM CDT

ROANOKE RAPIDS — The bright blue eyes shine with enthusiasm as he correctly matches colors and images.

Over the last several months Cole Etheridge’s life has changed.

The giveaways have all but vanished and there is new hope this 3-year-old child will lead a normal life.

It’s not like when Jason and Heather Etheridge first noticed their son’s behavior.

There was lack of eye contact, lack of speech. “One of the biggest things was lack of communication,” Jason said.

The child was progressing normally, Jason recalls, looking at the camera for family photos, learning to talk. “After he turned 1 and got his measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations he started running in circles and didn’t interact much.”

He flapped his arms like a bird, Jason recalls. “He would look at his hands like it was something there for him to read and see.”

The family visited their pediatrician and the mystery of the child’s problem began to unravel. “Dr. (Sheila) Bhagwandass was insightful enough to tell us we needed to do something,” Jason said.

Since then she has been interested in the path the family has taken to bring their child from inside a shell.

Child Developmental Services Agency in Roanoke Rapids diagnosed Cole.

The diagnosis was autism.

The beginning

“All autistic children are different,” Jason said. “You have to treat each one different. If he wanted juice he would grab our hand and take us where the cups are. He did know how to (in words) get it out.”

The diagnosis was tough to take but the family was determined to learn all they could about autism. “I never had my heart broken like this,” Jason said. “My wife was a lot more understanding and very proactive in moving forward. She went straight to proactive mode. I had to mourn so to speak.”

What the family learned at first was that Cole had good cognitive skills and his motor skills were fine.

It was his social skills that died. “He lost his speech, that was the number one thing,” Jason said. “It was his lack of eye contact. He didn’t engage other kids in play.”

The parents wanted one thing.

“It was clear from the get-go we wanted him to function as a normal human. We had some time to learn to cope and realized the Lord has plans for everyone.”

They began with speech and occupational therapy. They were about to learn some new methods after visiting a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor.

Jenny McCarthy and biomedical treatment

Through DAN! conferences and a book Heather’s mother found, Jason and Heather learned Cole had a chance at living a normal life.

The book is by Jenny McCarthy and is called “Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism.”

When testing for autism, a person must fail in certain categories to be diagnosed with the disorder, Jason said. “Jenny McCarthy’s son no longer tests as autistic.”

That’s what the Etheridges hope for.

The biomedical treatment is gaining acceptance but has been labeled somewhat controversial in treating autism.

For Jason and Heather, the approach appears to be working.

Doing this is not cheap, but family and friends support the efforts and have seen the difference it is making in Cole’s life.

“He knows who I am”

“He called my name the other day,” his grandfather, Phil Hux, said. “He knows who I am.”

Hux said Cole loves to ride in the boat. “Last year, he didn’t want to get in the water. Now you can’t get him out.”

Jason and Heather believe the results come from a gluten-free, cassein-free diet, which they started Feb. 1.

Casseins are dairy ingredients many autistic children are allergic to, Jason explained. This allergic reaction causes a yeast buildup, which the advocates of this method says clouds the brain like the child was drunk.

The focus on diet is something Jason and Heather learned at Defeat Autism Now conferences and through DAN! doctors.

What the couple has learned is something not much of the general public has heard. “This is not neurological,” Jason said. “It’s an immune deficiency problem mixed with a gastrointestinal problem.”

Jason and Heather have learned through their research that most children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, constipation, diarrhea and yeast buildup. “It comes from immunizations, too many antibiotics. Because they have clouded minds, brain fogs.”

Since having yeast removal, Jason said, “He’s back in our world.”


Cole is also off immunizations, Jason said. “He’s already had more in his short life than I’ve ever had.”

Jason has signed exemptions for both his children, meaning they are through with them. It’s not that the family is against them. “I don’t think we should have to do it the vigorous way the government wants us to. If we have another child we will vaccinate slowly,” he said.

In most states children by the age of 5 must receive 33 doses of 10 vaccines. For some children this is too much on their tiny immune systems. “Some kids’ immune systems are not fully developed until about 4 months old,” Jason said. “Bile is not working in the liver. That is what helps you detoxify. If a child is unable to harness and deal with these toxins, it gets to the bloodstream and goes to the brain.”

Jason is convinced his son got autism from the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, which were combined in 1979.

The methods are working for Jason and Heather and the next step will be detoxifying the child. “The cloud has lifted,” Jason said. “He’s come back into our world. He’s engaging other children with play.”

On a recent evening family friend Ed Liverman is at Jason and Heather’s house. The child clings to Ed, letting him hold him. “This is the strides he’s made. When he was in our neighborhood,he was latched to her hip,” he says of Heather.

Even the child’s vocabulary has improved dramatically. “His vocabulary is off the chart compared to six months ago.”

Jason said Cole’s vocabulary has increased from one word when he shut down to probably more than 300 words now.

There were noticeable changes in his behavior during a summer trip to the beach, Jason said. “He did so well at the beach, at the aquarium he wasn’t erratic and fussy. He talked about fish, named the fish. At rest he was behaved. He didn’t care sand in was in hair. He loved the ocean and no one we talked to knew he had autism.”

“When we go to church people come up to me and say he’s so much different,” Heather said.

New therapy and school

The Etheridges had originally considered putting Cole in a Mariposa school for children with autism. They opted, however, for Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, which gives children more hours of one-on-one therapy than Mariposa schools and eliminates a lengthy drive to Cary. “It’s  the number one type of therapy (that leads) to putting them in the normal classroom environment.”

Cole gets 26 hours of ABA therapy and is in the pre-school program at Clara Hearne. “He seems to be doing quite well,” Jason said Friday. “It’s a good opportunity to build his socialization skills and do group things.”

He tells his parents about a child named L.J. who rides the bus.

The nurturing the child receives is a family affair and has helped.

It was Heather who was the rock when the family learned Cole had autism. “I never read anything before,” she admits. “I read every single day. It’s like I’m always searching for something new.”

“We’ve got a good team, my parents and her parents,” Jason says.

Hux didn’t expect anything less. “I’m proud of them,” he said. “I knew they would do this. They know they can do this. That’s what parents are supposed to do.”

Jason has learned from the experience and continues to learn. “It’s taught me we’re a good team,” he says of his wife and himself. “I’m into my hobbies and good at my hobbies. I’m better at this because I love my son.”