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‘Stole my heart’

Local family shares its autism story

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Lindsay Gaunt of Creston wears a puzzle piece on her leg.

The puzzle piece in permanent ink holds special meaning for Lindsay. Written in a circle around the outer edges of the yet-to-be-completed puzzle piece tattoo are the words “A little girl with autism stole my heart.”

Lindsay raises awareness for autism every day through the tattoo.

Saturday, Lindsay and her family will walk in the Autism Society of Iowa’s fifth-annual Autism Awareness 5K Run, Walk and Resource Fair at Creston Community High School.

Obreigh, the 4-year-old daughter of Lindsay and Cory Gaunt, is autistic.

And, though, life hasn’t been what Lindsay and Cory expected when their first child was born, Lindsay said she wouldn’t change anything.

“It hurts me to see Obreigh struggle with all the things she does, but I wouldn’t change Obreigh for the world,” Lindsay said. “She is an amazing child.”

Diagnosis

Cory and Lindsay spent several years trying to get pregnant. They were even told by doctors they might not be compatible.

So when Lindsay found out she was pregnant, the couple was excited. Cory said she ran into Taco John’s, where he worked at the time, to tell him the good news.

The couple did not notice any delays or signs of autism with Obreigh until she was about 1 1/2 years old. After working with Green Hills Area Education Agency, workers there suggested Cory and Lindsay have Obreigh tested.

“She just had to have things a certain way,” Lindsay said. “For us, it was normal. She was our first child, so we didn’t really know. When they suggested we go get her tested, I didn’t get her tested for about six months, when they suggested it to us again.”

Cory and Lindsay began to see signs of autism when Obreigh began carrying two blue plastic balls around with her everywhere she went. She always had one in each hand, no matter where she was going. She stopped wearing clothes and went from eating all foods to only eating certain foods.

So, the couple took Obreigh to a doctor in Des Moines, who diagnosed her with autism and an intellectual learning disability.

“Then, my heart was broken,” Lindsay said. “We were broken for awhile. But then, we realized she’s not different. She just does things differently. She has a personality and she loves just like any other child.”

Cory and Lindsay also had Obreigh’s lead levels in her blood tested and found out her lead levels were 13 micrograms per decileter of blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blood level of concern is 5 micrograms per decileter of blood.

The couple then found out the paint in the apartment they lived in was lead-based. After moving to a new apartment, they had Obreigh’s blood tested again and the lead levels dropped significantly.

While the couple does not know for sure what caused Obreigh’s autism, studies have shown lead poisoning can lead to autism. Lindsay suggests parents think about paint and the possibility of it being lead-based when they have children.

Communication

Obreigh is nonverbal and cannot communicate through words what she needs or wants.

“It’s unfair to see your kid struggle with things that come so easily and naturally to other kids. I long for the day to hear her call me mom,” Lindsay said, with a tear streaming down her cheek.

Though Obreigh is nonverbal, technology has helped her communicate with her family and her teachers at school.

Obreigh recently received a communication device tablet from Talk To Me Technologies. With the tablet, she can click on buttons to communicate.

Obreigh has grown close to her younger sister, Piper. If 9-month-old Piper is not around, Lindsay said Obreigh will push the “sissy” button on her communication device.

Obreigh uses her communication device and another tablet to learn, often going to YouTube to find children’s songs and learn about colors.

“She’s getting better with that tablet, because it’s really improved her spelling,” Cory said. “It’s crazy. She can spell better than I can. We had magnets and she loves to go over there and spell out words. She goes to children’s songs and she hums along, so you know she gets rhythm – the words just won’t come out. It’s funny to watch her sing songs, because she’ll get all high-pitched, too.”

Once Obreigh was diagnosed with autism, Cory and Lindsay began reading and learning about autism. They found they needed to let her learn the way she wants to.

So, if Obreigh wants to learn the ABC’s from YouTube instead of from Lindsay, Lindsay lets her use the tablet to learn.

“She’s one of the smartest little girls I’ve ever met,” Cory said. “She can spell and she can do all of her numbers and everything.”

School

Cory and Lindsay said the Creston Community School system has been a blessing for their family, especially with paraeducator Megan Parsons and Obreigh’s preschool teacher, Naomi Sharp.

“Her para, Megan Parsons, is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to us,” Lindsay said.

“(Obreigh) really opened up to her right away and now they’re best friends,” Cory added.

Lindsay said Parsons goes “above and beyond” to help Obreigh, even volunteering to visit her over the summer so Obreigh remembers her when she goes back to school again next fall.

“Megan wants to stay with Obreigh, and we want Megan to stay with Obreigh throughout school,” Lindsay said.

Autism walk

Cory, Lindsay and Obreigh participated in the Awareness Lap during last year’s Autism Awareness 5K Run, Walk and Resource Fair.

They had hoped to do the full 5K, but with a large crowd, Obreigh became overstimulated.

The family will once again participate this year, with hopes of doing both the Awareness Lap and the 5K.

— — — — —

Saturday

Creston Community High School track

3 p.m. – Registration and T-shirt pickup; Autism Resource Fair

4 p.m. – Autism Awareness Lap balloon release; start of 5K run with walkers to follow

5:30 p.m. – 5K awards ceremony

— — —

• Cost is $25 per adult and $15 per child (12 and under)

• T-shirts are guaranteed to those who register prior to Thursday.

• Registration forms and online registration can be found at autismia.com

• Awards will be given to the top male and female runners in each age division (12 and under, 13-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 and 50 and up)

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