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Developing differently

Mom of autistic son recounts her parenting journey

High School sophomore Roman Scott may look like a typical 15-year-old — but every day, he lives with a condition that affects how he experiences the world.

At age 3, Roman was diagnosed with autism, a disorder that affects one in 54 children in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When he was a toddler, his pediatrician noticed that he wasn’t reaching developmental milestones.

“For example, by a certain age, a child should be asking for a cup instead of just reaching and whining; Roman wasn’t doing that,” recalls his mom, Erica — an educator from Ocean Springs. “I would go home and work with him, but he could not do it.”

Roman displayed other behaviors familiar to parents of autistic children. He flapped his hands in the air. He methodically lined up his toys during playtime. He liked to play alone or only with his older sister. He didn’t maintain eye contact. He yelled and had fits that were atypical for normal toddlers. He didn’t like his routine changed., and loud noises, bright, flashing lights and crowded areas bothered him.

A specialist confirmed the pediatrician’s suspicion, and Erica admits that she was sad to learn the diagnosis — and worried that she was ill equipped to care for a special needs child. Plus, she had to consider the effects on her three other children.

Roman, age 8

“With autism, there is a spectrum; there is no one way to tell what your child will be like and how autism will affect him and your family,” she says. “This diagnosis was not going away, so we decided to educate ourselves.”

Community support groups and local resources seemed scarce, so the Scotts partnered with their extended family, as well as their church, to invest in Roman — which “made all the difference in the world,” Erica says. At the time, she was a teacher for Jackson County School District, which had a pre-school, early intervention program for special needs students.

Life today for Roman and his family looks much different than a decade ago.

“He is such a wonderful guy,” Erica says. “He is funny and respectful. He loves being included with his peers. He loves any and all things Disney and Marvel Comics.”

Roman, age 15

Roman also takes great pride in his appearance, according to his mom, and he is very active in Wave Student Ministries at Pentecostals of the Gulf Coast. He sings in the youth ensemble praise team and participates in the drama ministry. He plays basketball on the Ocean Springs Unified Basketball team and earned a letterman jacket.

He’s always been fascinated by animals and can rattle off random stats about many species.

“I used to think that his dream job would be driving the safari truck at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom,” Erica says. “He has told me recently that he would like to be an actor or a voice actor.”

In January, Roman took his first classes as a high school freshman. Even when he doesn’t understand the material right away, Erica says, he works hard and keeps trying.

He may not graduate on time with the class of 2023, but Roman will graduate with an actual high school diploma — which makes his mom extremely proud.

“Roman has changed my life for the better,” Erica says. “I am so thankful that God chose me to be his mother and to be the one who gets to raise him.”

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