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Quentin's Journey: Celebrating gifts, tackling challenges of autism

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IRMO, SC (WIS) -

Raising children is a blessing. It's also hard work with each stage of growing up bringing new challenges.

For many parents, life delivers a diagnosis. And, no matter what it is, there are decisions that need to be made. One of the first questions being, "Will an autism diagnosis and its challenges define my child or will the gifts that it brings be embraced?"

One Columbia family chose to live in the present and take it day by day.

In the Bain family's Harbison home, if the kitchen table conversation over strategic chess moves and the game's best players doesn't tip you off, then likely it's all the books lining the shelves that give it away -- this is no ordinary family.

The third boy making up the four Bain brothers is 19-year-old Quentin.

All of the boys are smart, but mom, Erin, says Quentin has an extraordinary gift that unwrapped itself early on before his parents eyes.

"We noticed that he could read and I didn't teach him how to read," Erin said. "We read to him a lot but didn't do things like phonics."

It turned out reading was just the tip of the iceberg.

"By age 3, he knew all his states and capitols," Erin said. "We found a Periodic Table of Elements. [He] memorized it in a day."

Just as their 3-year-old showed remarkable abilities, up went red flags and signals that many times only mom sees.

"He wasn't hitting milestones like his brothers," Erin recalled. "Things like rolling over, speaking, waving. Something was different."

Doctors told Erin that maybe Quentin was a late-bloomer. But, she followed her gut and after a series of tests came the day she stared down a team of doctors.

"They said we think he has autism," Erin said, "and, they stared at us for our reaction and we just said 'Okay, now what do we do?'"

In 10 years, the number of children diagnosed with autism has gone from 1 in 88 to 1 in 68 children. The developmental disorder is touching more and more families every year.

Instead of fearing autism, Erin and her husband decided at that moment hope would lead the way for Quentin.

"What's the alternative?" Erin asked. "You can be sad, look at what he can't do. You can focus on all that but he really even at that point had extraordinary ability and we knew that he could do something with that ability."

As for her son's autism, Erin says it's part of who he is but it's certainly not his complete identity.

As Quentin grew up, his mind's amazing ability to memorize met mathematics. That's when things really started to click.

In the third grade, Quentin wrote a report on something called the Zeta Function. He was diving into books bigger than his head at a very young age.

Mastering math in the comforts of home was one thing. School would be more of a challenge.

"We were always aware of how people looked at him and how they treated him but we never had bullies," Erin said. "We were fortunate and part of that is he had brothers."

Big brothers helped and Erin knew if Quentin and all of his quirks were going to make it to graduation, she would need to be a "hawk" -- the kinder, gentler type.

"You have to be involved, helpful, positive, have a great rapport with teachers," Erin said. "They knew we were serious about education and that we weren't there to try to get him out of something or make it so easy for him. We wanted him to jump through the hoops because that's what life brings you."

Life also brings doubt, but those tough days Erin thought her son's challenges with autism may keep him from graduating. Those thoughts were silenced last week by the noise at Irmo High School's commencement when Quentin received his high school diploma as a distinguished undergraduate. It was the conclusion of the first leg of his academic journey orchestrated by his family and supported by friendly faces willing to pitch in and keep Quentin on his path of a life less ordinary.

"It's been an incredible journey and so many people along that journey have helped him and have helped us," Erin said. "It was an incredible moment."

"The excitement that I felt I had anticipated that moment for a long time," Quentin said.

Quentin's mom praises Lexington-Richland Five School District's special needs program and all around approach to being flexible and tailoring Quentin's education to fit his needs.

But what's next for Quentin? He's already earned college credits at the University of South Carolina. He'll be there in the fall.

He's got a brother there, so he and his parents will drive Quentin to campus for classes -- mostly math classes.

After that, he'll pursue his Ph.D, do some research, and eventually become a professor and teach others math.


More details on Autism:

Dr. Karina Poirier is an author and Doctor of Psychology, as well as an Board Certified Behavior Analyst. In her book "Unlocking the Social Potential in Autism" she writes:

"We now know that autism is a developmental disorder that begins in the womb and interferes with the development of certain mental structures. One of these structures regulates Executive Function (that is, a higher mental function that controls social problem solving). Another structure encourages Theory of Mind, our ability to empathize with others, based on the understanding that other people have their own thoughts and beliefs that are separate and different from our own. In combination with limited, repetitive behavior, these deficits can make it extremely challenging for a child to interact with others. Such impairments cripple social development, a process that feeds on itself because it worsens the child's isolation."

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