Teenager inspires neighborhood to shine light on autism - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Teenager inspires neighborhood to shine light on autism

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Ashley Ford Ashley Ford
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OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. (FOX13) -

The way Madyson Ford, 13, quickly clicks the computer keyboard, going from tab to tab and picture to picture, you'd never realize she has autism.

She was diagnosed at two years old.

"At first we were devastated," said her mother Ashley Ford, "We did a series of tests. We had genetic testing to neurology, every kind of test imaginable to find out what was wrong with our child."

An autism diagnosis is a spectrum nowadays; there is an umbrella of variations impacting children from low functioning to high functioning.

"Used to, I think the layperson, was you heard a child is autistic, what you expected was a child who is completely non-verbal, completely mentally challenged and maybe they just sit and rock," said Nurse Practitioner Laura Porch from Memphis Neurology.

Madyson is non-verbal but has found her niches: computers and music. Ashley adds she's great with dates.

"She can tell you a date from 2003 and what day it was on. She can remember everything, every vacation we've been on," said Ashley.

Madyson attends regular school with special education classes and is even enrolled in a dance class because Ashley wants her to feel normal.

Porch added, "I don't think we should use their autism as an excuse to say, ‘They can't do this; they can't do that.' It's amazing when you give these kids the opportunity what they're capable of. Many children on the spectrum are extremely well functioning; they have extremely high IQs."

Despite these strides, there are struggles too.

"They can have one meltdown over the smallest thing and we just have to take it day by day," said Ashley, "When she's having a meltdown people do stare. Or when she's stemming; when she stems that can consist of her rocking back and forth, throwing her hands in the air."

It makes the actions of her Olive Branch neighborhood invaluable: For the second year, neighbors lit their houses in blue in honor of Madyson and autism awareness.

"I just rode around the neighborhood and cried. I was so moved and so touched by everyone lighting up the neighborhood and getting awareness out there," said Ashley, "It is so touching that they have accepted my daughter for who she is."

And Madyson appreciates it too and added, "They're pretty lights. Thank you for lighting it blue."

While research for autism diagnosis and treatment has improved, Porch said insurance providers still need to catch up. She added insurance companies still consider autism a "psychological" issue.

Porch said various therapies are available to patients, but oftentimes she prescribes behavioral medication. The nurse practitioner said there is a genetic test that easily identifies the medicine that best matches the patient's needs, but Medicaid doesn't pay for it.

"If you have Mississippi Medicaid, TennCare, Arkansas Medicaid, they're not going to pay for this testing and it's unfortunate because it means that I waste a lot of their money testing medicine after medicine after medicine after medicine trying to find the one that works," she said.

While Tennessee did opt out of Medicaid expansion, Porch said it leaves them in limbo with autism treatments and tests.

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