Telluride Inside… and Out, Denver: Meeting autism specialist Brooke Young

Telluride Inside… and Out, Denver: Meeting autism specialist Brooke Young

by Tracy Shaffer

What a wonderful morning! One of those where it’s a bit overcast and you’re wishing you’d never scheduled one of those outside meetings, especially on a Friday. You'd be oh so content to work from home.
The light looked silvery in my golden room as I roused myself, vowing to keep my commitment. I’d set up coffee and an interview with Brooke Young, Autism Specialist with the Colorado Department of Education to discuss autism: not something I would normally bounce out of bed for, but April is National Autism Month and Brooke is headed for the Telluride region to mentor a Model Autism Team. I write for Telluride Inside… and Out. You get the picture.

I headed downtown to one of 15 Starbucks in a five block radius, ordered my Joe, asking if any of the many blondes in line was Brooke. Feeling luckily out of luck, I sat down to write and enjoy my overpriced java, secretly hoping I was at the wrong Starbucks as I guiltily scrolled through my Blackberry to find her number. One minute later in walked Brooke, apologetic for having gone to the wrong Starbucks, along with Gina Quintana, Significant Support Needs Specialist, also with the CDE.

To my surprise and delight the next two hours of conversation were amazing, riveting. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a cognitive disability identified by a triangle of attributes within target areas of brain: communication, social relatedness, and repetitive behaviors. Many of us function well in the world with slight variations in these areas of neurological development, but when bundled together, they prevent social adaptation for the person with ASD. There is no known cause and no cure. What we do know is that the numbers of children being identified is growing globally at a staggering rate, each one exhibiting the disorder individually. As Gina put it, “To know a child with autism is just that”, the philosophy being person first, disorder second.

The movie “Rain Man” is to autism what Helen Keller is to the deaf/blind community. They were both anomalies that brought mass attention to our brothers and sisters living with these disabilities, but to Brooke and Gina they are sweeping generalities. 

No one knows what it’s like to live with autism except for those who have it – and it's hard to even imagine. The hearing/sighted world can establish empathy with the deaf/blind experience through sensory deprivation, but it’s impossible to wrap your head around the autistic experience. And though we see commonalities within families of children with autism, even their experiences are singular, because autism presents in such a wide variety of ways. Television shows are on the bandwagon now with the introduction of characters with autism, most recently “Parenthood." So far, it is the HBO special on CSU Professor, Dr. Temple Grandin that presents the most practical, pragmatic look at the disorder. Temple's mother, Eustacia reframed the challenge: "Different, Not Less,"  the banner she waved to threads.

Brooke Young is headed to the Telluride region this week to implement a model program of training and dialogue among educators, families, and students in Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway, Norwood, and the West End. Having spent my Friday morning in the inspirational and compassionate company in her company and that of her associate, I can’t help but think how lucky the families and students they so fervently serve are.

For the families the stress of having a 24/7 child can be difficult at best, devastating to many.

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