Siblings often have lots of similar characteristics – eye color, temperament – but for the Broom family of Plain Township, their 3 boys have something in common that couldn’t be more different – autism spectrum disorder.
“Autism isn’t a cookie-cutter disorder,” said the boys’ mom, Jodi Broom. “Like typical siblings each boy has his own strengths and weakness so we try lots of different things to support them individually.”
According to Rebecca Lieb, PhD, director of the Akron Children’s Hospital Early Childhood Assessment Clinic, there used to be 3 different diagnoses (autism, Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified). But now doctors use a single diagnosis – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
For the Brooms, getting an ASD diagnosis wasn’t easy. In the 1990s, when the boys were born, autism was a relatively unknown disorder and classified as a mental retardation. This made it difficult to get the boys the support they needed from doctors and schools, as well as insurance companies for services they needed.
Early diagnosis is key
“It’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis early because it allows the child to get the services and therapy he needs right away,” said Jodi. “For parents, it allows you to start building foundation skills that are imperative for later on.”
Max, 23, Cameron, 20, and Tristan, 16, were all diagnosed early thanks to their parents’ persistence and intuition.
“When Max was 18 months old he wasn’t achieving milestones. He had little to no verbalization, fine motor issues and was timid around strangers,” Jodi said. “As first-time parents, we looked to our doctor for guidance. She was never concerned – always telling me he was just delayed and would catch up – but I knew something wasn’t right.”
The Brooms sought a second opinion and enrolled Max in an integrated preschool where a school psychologist evaluated him and validated their concerns.
At the same time, the Brooms had another baby boy, Cameron. During his first year, they began seeing developmental delays.
Five years later, the Brooms welcomed the arrival of their third boy, Tristan. And, once again, they saw the all too familiar signs of ASD.
Desperate for a professional advocate, the Brooms found a specialist who was aware of the condition and helped guide them down a path that would allow their boys to thrive.
“I honestly don’t know what we would have done if it weren’t for Dr. Duby (former director of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Akron Children’s) and Akron Children’s Hospital,” said Sean Broom, the boys’ dad. “Dr. Duby was a great mentor, listener and sounding board for us. Akron Children’s was the only place with the level of knowledge needed to help our boys. We’re forever grateful for their help.”
With newfound guidance, the Sean and Jodi worked to strengthen their boys’ academic, social and communication skills, which included collaborating with their school.
“We encouraged the boys’ teachers and administrators to think outside the box,” said Jodi. “Sean and I always came prepared for each IEP (Individual Educational Program) meeting with ideas that would help the boys succeed. I also created a peer mentoring program the school used to help them socially.”
Sean and Jodi kept talking with professionals, trying every suggestion and using every resource available to help their boys blossom and succeed.
“Some things worked and some didn’t…It’s all about trial and error. It’s how we learn,” said Sean. “The only time we really fail is when we don’t try. All our parenting to this point has been about changing and adapting to what each boy needs.”
Finding Ways to Help Each Boy Excel
“Dr. Duby kept telling us to find something each boy liked – sports, photography, whatever – and to get involved with it and build on it,” said Sean. “The opportunities that sports teams, the schools and coaches have given our boys over the years really helped them grow personally and improved their confidence.”
Max is athletic and has a great sense of humor. He found his niche managing GlenOak’s varsity and junior varsity basketball and football teams in high school. He also played Canton Challenger baseball and won gold at the 2014 Special Olympics USA games as part of the TEAM OHIO softball team.
Throughout school, Max earned awards and praise for his positive attitude and athletic abilities. As an adult, he continues to be a hard worker who isn’t afraid of responsibility, holding 2 part-time jobs and volunteering at Walsh University.
Cameron has always shown strength with numbers and enjoys academics. He found his comfort zone running cross-country and track for GlenOak High School and playing Canton Challenger baseball.
When he graduated, Cameron ranked in the top half of his class and earned the distinction of receiving GlenOak’s Outstanding Male Senior Award. Cameron’s genuine personality and dedication served him well as a peer mentor at the Ohio Youth Leadership Forum in Columbus. Today, he’s an intern at Canton City Hall and an advocate for young adults with disabilities.
Tristan, who has always had a keen sense of awareness, excels in golf, fishing and bowling. He also ran track for the Stark Public Special Olympics and attended the Special Olympics Region 10 Unified Golf Tournament where he and his partner placed first in their level.
As part of the GlenOak High School boy’s golf team, Tristan can stay engaged with his peers while playing a sport he loves.
Helping Kids With ASD Transition Into Adulthood
Jodi and Sean are proud of their boys’ accomplishments and know there’s more to come.
“I think stereotypes (about autism) are being crushed every day because of what these kids are proving they can do,” Jodi said.