Ten years ago, Jill and Jim Pidcock had their first child, a baby boy named Sam, and he was perfect.
Jill Pidcock remembers that she cried that day because she could not believe this beautiful baby was hers, with his big eyes and tiny smile. She and Jim knew they were very lucky.
Looking back, Pidcock, now of Glenwood Springs, realizes baby Sam’s behavior may have been different from that of other infants, but for the first 24 months, she didn’t really have any concerns. When Sam learned to walk, he walked on his toes. He didn’t engage strangers, he was not curious and didn’t do any experimenting or investigating. His language was very limited, even for a toddler. He was a good sleeper and eater, but he never asked for anything.
At the age of 2, Sam’s pediatrician pointed out that Sam was not hitting the typical developmental milestones of a child his age and suggested extra testing. Pidcock wasn’t necessarily open to the idea that something was wrong, so she presented the doctor’s concerns to her sister who was involved in the special education field. Her sister admitted that she had been concerned for some time and had already started gathering information about autism. She was simply waiting for the right time to broach the subject.
By the time Sam was evaluated and diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, he had a baby brother named Zachary. The Pidcocks, while celebrating their growing family, were overwhelmed with the realization that their first born son was different and they weren’t even sure what that would mean.
Would he have friends? Go to college? Would he ever drive a car or get married? So many questions propelled them into worry for the future when all they really wanted was to enjoy the present.
And that was Pidcocks’ introduction to the world of advocacy for children with autism and their families.
“I decided early on that if I can help other parents [in similar situations], that’s what I will do,” she recalls.
As Sam grew, his signs of autism became more apparent with unpredictable melt-downs, uncommon tidiness, rocking back and forth, an obsession with his own hands and endless questioning and the need to know all details. Pidcock says that on the autism spectrum, Sam was considered to be “middle of the road” and his symptoms are not always obvious to others or debilitating.
“In fact,” she says, “Sam is doing so well that it enables me to help other families. He really is so much more of a blessing to us than a burden in our life. He teaches us every single day to live in the moment.”
Sam is now 10 years old. After the Pidcock family decided to move to the Roaring Fork Valley from another mountain community on the Front Range in 2007, Pidcock researched the various special education programs in this area. She secured a job with the Roaring Fork School District as a paraprofessional and connected with a “unique and active” group called the Roaring Fork Autism Network. This group, which was developed by two area moms who have kids with autism, provided a wealth of support.
Pidcock explained that soon after starting work in the school district, she could see the disconnect between families, schools and other service providers.
“It did not seem like everyone was talking to each other for the good of the student with an IEP [Individualized Education Plan],” she said. “I created a proposal for a district parent liaison, and although I received a lot of support for my ideas, the school district was not in the position to fund such a position. This led me to my first state position with PEAK Parent Center as a regional family mentor for families with disabilities.”
With this new responsibility, Pidcock was able to meet with families, educators and service providers from all over the northwest region of Colorado. She was soon asked to join the Colorado Coalition for Autism and Other Neurological Options (CO-CANDO) and charged with working on a 10-year strategic plan to help families living with autism.
“I have met so many people with so much knowledge,” Pidcock says. “Through CO-CANDO, I continue to try and be a voice of the rural/frontier mountain communities.”
According to Pidcock, the challenge continues to be bringing more services and support from the Front Range to western Colorado.
“We are making good strides in educating our community about the needs of families,” Pidcock says, “but it continues to be like pushing a boulder uphill.”
And though moving back to the Front Range might provide her family with easier access to services, the Pidcocks choose to stay in Garfield County where they feel she can continue to make a difference.
“I like trying to find ways to get creative and help uncover support options,” Pidcock said.
Her mission is to raise awareness that there are still limited services for families in this rural mountain area. ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy is the most well-known learning or treatment process, but there are no fully trained ABA therapists closer than Grand Junction or Eagle.
Plus, insurance companies are still not covering the majority of services needed, especially for families not eligible for federal or state aid. The Pidcock family is a perfect example, as they pay out-of-pocket for every service for Sam unless he happens to get a scholarship.
Pidcock also stresses that the communities in this area do provide some amazing opportunities for her autistic son. There are groups like Windwalkers, Beyond the Bell and Extreme Sports Camp for Autism. Extreme Sports Camp is based out of the Third Street Center in Carbondale, www.extremesportscamp.org/.
“I had never experienced anything like Extreme Sports Camp before,” she said. “My son took to skiing and climbing and boat sports as if he was born to do it. He may not be the greatest baseball player, but he can scramble up a climbing wall blindfolded in record time with precision.”
These positive experiences with the Extreme Sports Camp for Autism prompted Pidcock to take a job as director of development and community outreach with the organization where she continues to reach out to families from Parachute to Aspen. Besides the more obvious social and developmental challenges of the disability, families and children with autism deal with myriad hidden challenges, which include the lack of financial aid, stress on the marriage and possible depression for siblings. Pidcock continues to bring attention to each of these issues.
“I was drafted into this world of autism and disability,” she says. “I want to do everything in my nature to help other families just like us.”