Each autistic child is unique in his or her own way. Some exhibit classic symptoms like repetitive behaviors, verbalization issues and sensory issues—like sensitivity to light, sound and touch. Other children have trouble sleeping, eating adult food and becoming toilet-trained.
One common symptom is known as "stimming," which is short for self-stimulatory behavior. This physical manifestation of the disease is erratic, repetitive and sometimes uncontrollable. Some children may clap their hands repeatedly, while others may grind their teeth or jump up and down.
Anna, Jesse's wife and Adam's mother, says her son is into head-banging. "He loves to bang his head against you," she says. "Sometimes it hurts."
Katie says Christian uses hand gestures to express himself. She and her husband have tried to redirect these movements toward productive activities, like playing a musical instrument or participating in physical activities.
The creativity and vigilance required to raise an autistic child can be exhausting for some parents. "[It's] physically draining," Jesse says. "You're constantly watching, and if you're not watching, someone else has to watch and see what he's doing [and] try to redirect him, try to keep him connected in our world as opposed to the world he wants to drift off into."
Some parents go to great lengths just to get their child's attention. "Sometimes you just feel so small," Michele says. "Just to get your child to look at you, you will do anything."