Autism Society of the Keys (A.S.K.)
Craig Campbell was diagnosed with autism at two and a half years old. After two years of biomedical treatments, therapy and a restricted diet, he is well on his way to recovery.
Each April, families affected by autism take the opportunity to educate the public about the condition and raise awareness within their communities.
This past April, The Weekly Newspapers met Craig and Jill Campbell of Key Largo. When their son, Craig, was diagnosed around the age of two, the couple decided to fight the battle head on.
Instead of accepting doctors’ recommendations to give up on their son and plan to institutionalize him, they found a wealth of information online.
“People think autism is like Down’s Syndrome, which has been proven to be a genetic disease,” Craig said. “Autism is a direct result of environmental factors.”
Several biomedical factors, like increased levels of yeast in the stomach, heavy metals in the bloodstream and inflammation, the Campbell’s believe, have contributed to their son’s condition. Jill recalled that her oldest son, Anthony, 17, only had 10 vaccinations between birth and age 5.
Craigee, as they call him at home, received a whopping 27 vaccines before the age of 2.
“Doctors do not have a safe schedule for vaccines,” Jill said.
Five days a week, Jill or Craig picks up their son from Key Largo School and drives him to Miami for two hours of one-on-one therapy at the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. They’ve also located a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) doctor on the mainland to help with Craigee’s treatment.
In addition, the couple shelled out $20,000 for a hyperbaric oxygen chamber that helps stimulates the blood capillaries in their son’s brain. Their health insurance, for which they pay $2,400 a quarter with a $3,800 deductible, does not cover any of their son’s treatment. She’s a licensed real estate agent, and the couple is currently facing foreclosure on two homes.
“We’re broke,” Jill said plainly. “But the good news is that he’s healthy.”
Each month, they have to decide between paying for therapy or paying their mortgage and credit cards.
Nothing could have prepared the couple for the life-altering challenges of raising an autistic child. Craig said he is currently aware of at least 50 families in the Upper Keys alone that have autistic children.
In February, they formed the non-profit Autism Society of the Keys (A.S.K.) in honor of their son’s victories in his daily battle with autism.
A.S.K. not only meets regularly as a support network for parents and families, the organization also provides an outlet through which local families can apply for grants to help offset the cost of expensive autism treatment. In fact, A.S.K. was one of four benefactors of the Inaugural Jewfish Creek Bride Run.
As Aunt Josie arrived and The Weekly Newspapers welcomed Deputy Editor Joshua James Koler, the staff watched a wary mom and dad as they worked to run a business get the hang of parenthood. The bleary-eyed co-owners worked around little Josh’s schedule for weeks as they worked to get their other weekly baby to the printer on time each week.
Our tribute to Working Moms in the Florida Keys was one of the most memorable in the publication’s six young years.
From a former Washington lobbyist to an immigrant single mother and other small family business owners, Florida Keys mothers are clearly incredibly smart, strong, brave and gracious women working each day to strike the very delicate balance between supporting their household and raising a happy family.
Elda Solis is the head of her household of three teenagers as well as the Chief Supervisor Aide at CVS in Marathon. Originally from Mexico by way of California, Elda took notes on parenting from her grandmother.
She’s quick to refute her children’s comparisons of her to other parents.
“They ask me, ‘Why are you so strict?’ and I tell them I don’t care what the other kids are doing,” she explained.
While working one full time job at CVS, Elda also manages to squeeze in a part-time job with Goya, placing orders and stocking the company’s product at both Publix and Winn Dixie. She admits she stretched pretty thin in order to make a better life for her children.
“No matter what, my first job is to be a mother,” Elda said, adding that she’s fortunate to have her sister close by and be able to raise her family in a small town.
Realtor extraordinaire Claire Johnson said schedules – and patience – are the keys to helping her find balance between work, raising two-and-a-half-year-old Saylor, spending time with her husband, and finding personal time for herself.
“I have to remember that she is experiencing everything for the first time,” Claire explained. “I have to remind myself, that it is quality of time I spend with my daughter, not quantity of time.”
Trying to keep her family and her business on some semblance of a schedule is a challenge in and of itself. Claire explained that she tries to maintain regular meal times, nap times and bed times as well as scheduling a few minutes each day for herself.
“Of course, everything is not always perfect,” she explained. “When we get to the rough patches in the road, I have to remember to step back, re-group and develop a new strategy. And tell myself that this too shall pass.”
Margie Smith went through an identity crisis of sorts when she relocated from Washington, D.C. to Islamorada. In the blink of an eye, Margie went from long busy days as the Director of Regulatory Affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives to a full-time, stay at home mommy struggling with the basics of parenting.
“I had no idea during my old fast track career what my colleagues with small children had to conquer just to get out the door in the morning,” Margie laughed.
It was only recently that Margie finally found regular childcare for her two daughters. Every time a deadline or meeting arose, she was scrambling to find a caretaker for 16-month old Layne.
Now that Layne and her sister, Corley, 4, are enrolled at Montessori Island School, organization is Margie’s biggest challenge.
Guardian ad Litem Expands Program in Middle Keys
After nearly a year in Marathon, my esteemed editor began pestering me to get involved with some type of community service project – it is, after all, part of my professional duty.
Having been thoroughly involved throughout high school and college in various social clubs and community service organizations, it seemed only natural when I was invited to join the Junior League after I took my first job out of college. Though the organization did beautiful work for school children in the community, I was not compelled to join another group that obligated me to attend regular meetings. Covering meetings, in fact, is a major part of my current duties.
But when I received a request from the 16th Judicial Circuit to spread the word about the need for Guardian ad Litem volunteers in the Middle Keys, my interest was certainly piqued.
I spoke with volunteers active in the thriving programs in Islamorada and Key West. They shared stories of children completely abandoned from their families and lost in the chaos and confusion of the judicial system.
Key West resident Leona Maggio told The Weekly that when she docked her sailboat in Key West some 15 years ago, she looked for a way to give her time to those less fortunate than herself. What she found was the Guardian ad Litem program.
In Florida, the Guardian ad Litem program is a partnership of community advocates and professional staff that works to provide a voice for abused and neglected children within the state’s legal system. Many other states use a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program to provide a similar support for kids.
Maggio said the program could have focused efforts on the elderly or the homeless, but it just so happened they work for children.
“Nothing has been as rewarding as working with these kids,” she explained.
One atypical case to which Maggio has been committed for the past six years was one she read about in a local newspaper’s crime report. The youngest sibling, now in his early teens, has bounced between 15 different foster homes since the case was opened.
“She has been the only constant in their lives,” said LuAnn Diaz, supervising recruiter and trainer for Monroe County’s GAL program. “She’s not there to nurture them or to be a mother to them but to fight for them and make sure they get placed in a stable, safe home environment.”
I completed a nine-week training program with more than half a dozen other volunteers and recently accepted my first case.