UPDATED: Community rallying to help autistic mother and daughter
UPDATE:1/5/2016 7 p.m.
Less than twelve hours after Kimberly and Gracelynn’s story was published on Riverside County News Source, Kimberly was contacted by several people and a business that offered to help the mother and daughter celebrate Gracelynn’s third birthday party.
The first part of Gracelynn’s party will now be held at Mary Henley Park in Hemet, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The whole community has been invited to wear their silliest or favorite costumes and come out to help make Gracelynn’s day extra special.
Goody bags, games, pizzas, and a Peppa Pig piñata donated by CJ’s Party Piñatas will be available and those who are able have been asked to bring a food item to add to the food options.
After the first part of the party, at 3:45 p.m., the children in attendance have been graciously invited by the owner of Cutting Edge Salon at 2811 W. Florida Avenue in Hemet to enjoy a Pampered Princess Party, where they will enjoy being pampered while getting their nails done by professionals.
Kimberly and Gracelynn could not be more happy or excited at the prospect of all the new friends from around the community they will be meeting!
Kimberly Sawyer is a young mom who has spent her life learning to adapt and overcome Asperger’s Syndrome and a whole host of other medical conditions. Asperger’s Syndrome is a condition that doctors call a “high-functioning” type of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Kimberly is now raising her own daughter, Gracelynn, who has also been diagnosed with autism.
Kimberly is using her own experiences growing up with ASD to help her raise her daughter to be as healthy and happy as possible.
Growing up autistic
At a very early age Kimberly knew she was different from other children around her. But because she was not diagnosed until she became an adult, she never understood why she felt so awkward and different. Growing up un-diagnosed, Kimberly spent her early years not understanding why she had difficulty with things other kids around her seemed to have no problems with.
Kimberly said she experienced problems with everyday situations such as maintaining eye contact, knowing how to interact socially with other children and adults around her, making and maintaining friendships, and knowing what to say or how to respond when someone talked to her.
Because her autism was was not diagnosed as a child, there were few options or resources available for her. Kimberly said her grades soon dropped from A’s to B’s, to C’s, and then straight F’s. Even the PA system and hourly school bells were a constant source of aggravation, as her hearing was so sensitive.
“I remember going to the counselor’s office for help a lot but no one would help me,” Kimberly explained. “I remember telling the counselors I could not concentrate in class, yet nothing was ever done.”
Kimberly said when she was in high school she was picked on so often she would get her lunch and eat it locked inside a bathroom stall.
She ended up dropping out of school her senior year because she could not handle the constant bullying, being singled out and the ongoing frustration.
“It was not until I was adult when I became diagnosed with Asperger’s,” Kimberly explained. “Then it all made sense. So for me, there were no therapies available to me. I lived, I learned, I adapted.”
At 31, Kimberly went back to high school and she graduated valedictorian from Alessandro High. She is now in college with a 4.0 G.P.A. and she has won several award and honors, including a congressional award for Human Rights and Equality.
Raising her own child with autism
Almost three years ago, Kimberly had a baby girl who, like herself, was diagnosed with autism.
By the time Kimberly’s daughter Gracelynn was three months old, Kimberly began to notice and observe many of the same traits in her daughter that she saw in herself while growing up.
“When Gracelynn was just a few months old I began to notice the same lack of eye contact, lack of emotions, and a disconnection from the outside world around her.”
Kimberly explained that Gracelynn has concentration difficulties, as well as body awareness and safety awareness issues.
“Gracelynn does not feel pain,” Kimberly explained. “She will cry from shock but not from pain. She can get hurt very bad and unless she is shocked from a fall, she doesn’t cry or show emotions, so every day I have to make sure every inch of her is okay.”
“People used to say I was so lucky, that she’s so quiet, she rarely ever cried…but babies are supposed to cry.”
“She is a fighter, she has already overcome so much.”
Because Kimberly grew up un-diagnosed with little or no resources available for her and because of everything that she experienced while growing up, she vowed that Gracelynn’s childhood would be different.
In an effort to provide Gracelynn with the best childhood possible, Kimberly has spent the last year and a half taking her daughter to as many types of therapy as she possibly could.
Kimberly said in spite of her daughter’s diagnosis, she has high hopes that all the different forms of therapy will help Gracelynn grow into a more confident woman while experiencing a well-rounded childhood.
“Over the last year and a half Gracelynn has been undergoing extensive therapy and countless doctor’s appointments,” Kimberly explained. “I am proud to say that she has worked so hard over the last eighteen months that her therapies have now been cut in half.”
“She is a fighter,” Kimberly proudly stated. “She has already overcome so much.”
Gracelynn no longer has problems with many of the fine motor skill issues she used to suffer from, according to Kimberly.
“She graduated from that therapy as well as physical therapy and she has been making great progress,” Kimberly explained. “She now makes solid eye contact with others, which is often hard for a child with autism. I still struggle with making eye contact with others and I am now 33-years-old.”
Gracelynn still has occupational therapy and has issues feeding herself and holding utensils, but she is making solid progress in those areas as well.
Gracelynn has also been in day care for therapy for the last year and she is learning how to interact with other children. “The last year has helped her immensely,” Kimberly said.
“Gracelynn will play along side with a child but still tends to wander off by herself, and if she does play it’s usually not for that long,” Kimberly explained. “I really want her to be able to learn how to make and keep friends, which is why I have her in all of her therapies.”
Kimberly is hoping that with more meaningful interactions with other children she will learn how to build lasting relationships.
After so much progress, Gracelynn has earned her reward
With Gracelynn’s third birthday quickly approaching, there is nothing Kimberly wants more than for her daughter to have a fun, memorable, and special day. But more than gifts or an extravagant party, Kimberly’s greatest desire is for Gracelynn to make some friends.
“This little girl is my motivation. She is my inspiration and the reason I wake up every day,” Kimberly explained. “She has progressed so much over the last year and I am immensely proud of her. I feel that this child deserves one of the best birthday parties ever because of her hard work, dedication, and perseverance.”
Gracelynn’s third birthday is Jan. 22. To celebrate her birthday Kimberly wants to reward her by introducing some new friends into her life. But without many of her own friends she didn’t know where to start.
“Unfortunately, I do not have many friends due to my own autism and health issues and I didn’t have anybody other than family to invite to her birthday,” Kimberly said. “Even to this day, it is still very hard for me to form and maintain real and lasting friendships.”
So, in a last-ditch effort Kimberly took to the internet, inviting the entire community to help Gracelynn share in her success with a birthday party – and the community answered in a big way. Within days she had dozens of RSVP’s. Within weeks, she had over ninety; and the list keeps growing.
“Gracelynn was so excited when I told her she was going to have actual friends to play with at her birthday party that she asked if she could use her piggy bank money to buy them presents,” Kimberly said. “It’s an amazing feeling when your two year old does something that kind out of the kindness of their heart.”
Gracelynn also gave about 20 toys to the fire victims and kids that lost everything in the fire right before Christmas. “This is one amazing child, that she would want to give her own things to those who had nothing left,” Kimberly explained.
Now, with so many people wanting to show Gracelynn their love and support, Kimberly is looking for a place to hold her birthday in a venue that can handle so many from around the community.
So, Kimberly is now looking into local community parks or a business that would be willing to help Gracelynn have the birthday she truly deserves.
If you know a local business that would be interested in helping Gracelynn celebrate her birthday, Kimberly can be contacted at Ksawyer657@student.msjc.edu.
“It’s getting scary now,” Kimberly admitted. “I have a lot of people who want to come which is awesome, but here I am thinking, it takes 45 days to get a park permit and I cannot have that many people at my small, one-bedroom house. So I am getting a bit concerned.”
“But I have faith that when a whole community comes together, there isn’t anything that can’t be accomplished,” Kimberly said.
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Trevor Montgomery spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg in an off-duty accident.
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including the Robert Presley Detention Center, the Southwest Station in Temecula, the Hemet Station, and the Lake Elsinore Station, along with many other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, Personnel and Background Investigations and he finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator.
Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 12 – soon to be 13 – grandchildren.