RICHMOND, Va. – A Central Virginia mother of four, with three sons on the autism spectrum, said it takes a lot of planning to keep her family moving.
"From wake up to sundown, it's a gym," Latonnya Smiling-Freeman said.
Of the four Freeman kids, all three boys, Jacob, Vance and Austin, live with autism.
"I feel like they gave me purpose," Smiling-Freeman said
Thirteen-year-old Jacob was diagnosed as a baby, which led the Freemans to get Vance and Austin tested early as well.
"Jacob and Austin, you never know what you're going to get, but they're always funny,” Smiling-Freeman said. “And then Vance, he's very serious and takes things very literally."
Smiling-Freeman said what they learned when the boys were younger has set the family “up to be in a good space right now."
In fact, through work with professionals on autism specific behavioral therapy, the Freemans learned of the routines that work well for each of their kids.
"He may not be able to tell the time, but he'll know what time of day it is by what he does,” Smiling-Freeman explained.
The three boys react differently to interruptions within those routines or new places and people.
Smiling-Freeman wishes those who do not know someone with autism realize just how varied and nuanced the social and emotional presentations of it can be.
"I think there's a misconception that all kids with autism look the same,” Smiling-Freeman said. "Or maybe all of them are smart, when that's not just the case. I have three and all three are very different.”
Smiling-Freeman said it is important to “get educated about autism and how to approach it."
"Everyone needs to be a little kinder, a whole lot kinder and a lot more patient,” she said. "I just pray that the world that they will live in, that they'll be kind to them. That they'll take a little time just to see what they do.”
The Freeman's daily process is a learned one, but the mother of four said it does not feel routine since it comes from a place of love.
"This is what I want to do. I want to be in this field with them,” Smiling-Freeman said. “I want to be with other parents talking about solutions or better ways our world can support them, and what we can do to get that ball rolling."