Living with autism

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Editor’s note: April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism is a brain disorder that often impacts a person’s ability to form relationships with others, communicate and respond appropriately to the external world. Lancaster resident Wanda Sirk shares her experience of what it is like to live with her 24-year-old son, Corey Pope, who is autistic.
Chances are you know at least one family member who is affected by autism. One in 88 children are diagnosed with autism each year in America and one in 54 of those children are boys.
As the mom of a handsome young man, Corey Pope, 24, who lives with this complex condition, I have been involved in the world of autism for nearly a quarter of a century and I still have a lot to learn.
Learning to live with Corey’s autism has brought me to a deep understanding of how his condition relates us all to God, family and friends.
Corey has known Preacher Ray (this is what Corey calls him) for a long time. We currently attend Emmanuel Baptist Church in Fort Lawn where the Rev. Ray Robinson is pastor. Corey and Preacher Ray have been best buddies for 16 years. Our church family has been so supportive of us and Corey is much loved at church. There is Donna Robinson, the pastor’s wife, who Corey sits with every Sunday.
People stop and listen when Corey wants to talk about the hayride and Preacher Ray and who is going to sing what song that day. Corey loves hymns. These conversations are the only ones he can have with others because he knows, step-by-step, how they will turn out. He is comfortable in this setting. When I say, “Thank you for spending a moment with Corey,” they all tell me they enjoy talking to him, even though it’s the same story over and over.
Corey is loved and welcomed at church with handshakes, high fives and an occasional hug, even though he doesn’t like to be held closely. What Corey has at Emmanuel Baptist is, as we say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Corey’s family is the center of his life. He is blessed with supportive grandparents, Johnny and Ann Funderburk, who are his extended family and supply countless blessings of every kind. My mom is here once a week to stay a couple of days just to help us out. He has a dad, Curt Sirk, who is my wonderful Christian husband. Curt has been with us for 16 years and Corey can’t get enough of him. He brings a second set of grandparents, whose support is a big part of Corey’s life. Curt’s gentle patience is just what Corey needs, another gift from God. Caylin Sirk is our beautiful 7-year-old daughter and a wonderful little sister to Corey. Thanks to aunts and uncles and Great Aunt Fran and Cecil Clifton for being there for us for 24 years.
Corey does not read or write or watch TV or play, so I am his focus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He walks and talks a good bit and I can understand him better than others. He loves music, not what you hear on the radio or TV, but on a CD. Corey has a recording of his church family singing. He knows how to use the CD player.
Corey’s life has been filled with teachers, therapists and doctors. Corey was diagnosed with autism in elementary school. That was a turn down a hard road 16 years ago. These educators and therapeutic professionals are devoted to our autistic children and incredibly generous with their time and talents and our family has benefited. There are doctors also graciously dedicated to solving this riddle called autism.
We’re grateful for Dr. Dexter Cook, who has been with Corey since birth. In 24 years, we have a lot of memories, like the times when he was a little fellow and so wild that Dr. Cook would have to chase him around the room just to get a look at his throat.
We’re also grateful for Dr. Kenton Holden at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr.  Holden put Corey on the ketogenic diet to stop the 100 or so seizures he was having at the time. Again, relief from above by the great physician who gives these dedicated souls the talents they have to help those like Corey.
God, family and friends
Looking back on all Corey and I have been through, I know I would not be where I am today without the support of my friends, mostly from our church community. Corey spends all week in anticipation of seeing them each Sunday. Our family and extended family are the center of Corey’s life.
The amazing support and acceptance of both our parents have been an immeasurable blessing.
I’m most grateful for my Lord Jesus Christ who has been with us through it all and will be with us till the end. He has been my unseen source of strength that gets me through each day.