When a rainbow of fireworks burst in the air as part of the kickoff for the Family Fun Run, 5K race at Walt Disney World, Adam Rivera barely flinched.
Nor was the 14-year-old rattled that the race included some 10,000 other runners, most of them adults, only a handful coping with autism, as Adam has since he was a toddler.
“Hearing the fireworks was a little bit tough, but also fun,” said Adam, reflecting on the Jan. 11 race.
A fear of loud noises or big crowds is not unusual for children with autism spectrum disorders, even those like Adam, who are considered high functioning.
Autism often affects a child’s communication and social skills, cognitive function and can precipitate eating and sleep disorders, difficulty in sensory integration and other conditions and quirks.
It now affects 1 in 88 children in the country, according to the National Autism Association. Boys are four times more likely to be autistic than girls.
When Adam was first diagnosed, before he was 2, his body rocked back-and-forth perpetually, according to his mother Gladys Rivera. He was terrified of loud noises like thunder, and was compulsive about having the tags painstakingly cut from his shirt collars.
“He also wouldn’t eat anything unless it was red,” said Ms. Rivera, a longtime Riverdale resident. “In the beginning, his diet was French fries with ketchup, and milk with big spoonfuls of strawberry-flavored Nestle’s Quick.”
But, one day while the Riveras were having dinner at a family friend’s, Adam shocked his mom and two sisters, Randi and Dominique, when he declared, “I’d like to try some of that rice.”
The mouthful was the first step in the boy’s metamorphosis.
Over the past five years or so, Adam has shown a marked improvement in the classroom. He also displays fewer fears, has broadened his interests, communication and social skills.
While dwelling on a child’s autism is unavoidable in severe cases, Gladys Rivera and her daughters made a point of avoiding it with Adam.