Montana Health News

Apr 1, 2013 8:55 AM by Tara Grimes - MTN News

MT mother shares story of son for Autism Awareness Month

GREAT FALLS - Everything in the first 18 months of Trinette Smitherman's son's life everything seemed almost perfect.

"He was saying full sentences, he was running, playing," Smitherman said about her son Dustin.

Then something changed.

"He started losing his speech, his tactile abilities, being able to grab things, move, run," Smitherman said. "It's like all of the sudden he went into another world."

From there Smitherman was thrown into a tumultuous world, filled with doctors who only had questions themselves.

"They didn't understand why the sensory issues, and why his world all of the sudden just closed," Smitherman said.

Finally the diagnosis came: Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"It's almost in a way, the death of your child's spirit," Smitherman said. "It's like you kind of mourn, you're angry and then you accept it. That's how I kind of describe in a way autism because it's so still unknown."

Autism is a developmental disorder in which a person struggles with social skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, about one-in-88 children are diagnosed with autism, and Autism Spectrum Disorders are almost five times more common among boys than among girls.

The symptoms in every child vary greatly, but mental health counselor Brett Gilleo said there are a few clues that can show up early.

"If you have a baby at a year old who really isn't responding to social smiles, really is not babbling normally or making noises often, those are some early signs that you need to be talking to your pediatrician," Gilleo said.

Now at the age of 18 and functioning at a pre-k level, Dustin lives in an adult home in Conrad. He works at a place for those with disabilities.

While medical professionals are continuing to examine what causes autism, Smitherman works to fight to make others aware of what the disorder is.

She said getting others to accept her child is hard, but she said she's not giving up and she wants other parents out there with a child with autism not too either.

"This is an amazing gift, you just have to learn how to figure it out," Smitherman said. "You have to get in there world and understand their world."

Smitherman will be at Great Falls College-MSU on Tuesday with a booth to educate others about this disorder. She'll also hold a candlelight walk Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m on the north side of the 10th Street Bridge, which will be lit up in blue for Autism Awareness Month.

Gilleo and Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute will hold a free training session on Tuesday, April 11 on understanding ASDs. Then on Wednesday April 17, they will hold another free training session on simple strategies for ASDs.

Both trainings will be held at the Benefis Sletten Cancer, 1117 29th St. S., in the Guy Tabacco Room from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

For more information on ASD click here. You can also visit


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