Twin brothers juggle Autism and school

Lewie and Charlie Johnson are nine-year-old identical twins. Both are fourth-graders at the Joyanne Miller School in Egg Harbor Township. Charlie is autistic while Lewie has Asperger’s Syndrome, a less severe form of autism. Another son, Ryan, 4, appears fine, but their mom, Bonnie Johnson, still gets nervous when he mimics his older brothers’ behaviors.

“I was scared to death when the twins were diagnosed,” she said. “I didn’t want them to say the “A” word. But now I realize I’m not alone. “

Charlie started in the EHT autism preschool at age 3. Lewie was diagnosed a bit later.

“At first we didn’t think Lewie was autistic, but when I put him in a private preschool, he didn’t last a week,” she said. She admits she fought the autism program at EHT at first, but has come to respect and appreciate the work the teachers do.

“I didn’t like the diagnosis and I didn’t want to hear it,” she said. “At first I thought Bonnie (Sebastian, director of the autism program) was my enemy. Now she’s a god.”

Lewie attends a regular fourth-grade class with an aide. Some days are “two thumbs up” and some are “two thumbs down.”

Charlie is in a special education class, but is reading a little, doing his own math homework and just started spending some time in a regular class.

“He said I feel like I’m in a big boy classroom now,” Johnson said.

 “As a parent it can be heartbreaking,” she said. “But I also feel lucky because we have all learned so much. They’ll both be getting their First Communion this year. It’s a year late, but they did it and I’m so proud of them.”

Book 'Autism Planet' helps spread awareness

Kyle and Isabelle Mosca stood before the audience at the New York Avenue School in Atlantic City recently to talk about the book they wrote, “Adventures to Autism Planet.”

Kyle, 12, is autistic, and calmly surveyed the crowd while Isabelle explained how their book came to be.

Isabelle admits Kyle’s behaviors used to drive her nuts. But when she was 7, she had a dream in which Kyle took her to his “autism planet” and she learned how he viewed life. She told her mother, Isabelle, about the dream, and they made it into a book with photos and drawings by Kyle. The book was just published, and Kyle and Isabelle have been talking about it to raise awareness of autism.

Best known for her work with the FACES Autism Awareness group and the Bubbles for Autism Day, Mosca believes the more people know about autism, the easier it will be for autistic students to be accepted in school and society. Kyle and Isabelle are fraternal twins. Both are sixth-graders at the Ventnor Community School.

Isabelle does most of the talking, but through her eyes Kyle appears not as disabled, just different.

“He is just like us,” she said. “He likes to go swimming, and do all the things we like. “

When a student at New York Avenue School said he has a cousin with autism who always plays by himself, Isabelle suggested he go play with him because his cousin may not know how to ask someone to play. Her mom later said how proud she was of her answer. In the book, Kyle is “normal” on Autism Planet and Isabelle is different.

“This is where we go when life gets too tough for us,” Kyle explains in the story. “Don’t feel sorry for us, just accept us. “

Two autistic brothers, two different experiences

One day, when he was in fifth grade, Joey Parral didn’t want to leave his Upper Township classroom. Other students in the class thought they knew why.

“They said he likes it when they sing to him, he wants us to sing,” said his mother, Marya Small. “So they sang, and he was so happy.”

Joey, 14, has autism and Down syndrome. Now an eighth-grader at the Upper Township Middle School, he has homeroom and other activities with a regular class, but does academic work in a special classroom. His mother could have placed him in the Cape May County Special Services School. But another autistic son, Ian, now 22, spent much of his schooling in the special services school, and Small fought to keep Joey in his local school where he could be with his hometown community.

“The kids there overall have been great,” she said. “There are students willing to be friends with these kids.”

Small has seen an evolution in how autistic students are educated, and has learned how to advocate for her sons. Ian attended the Cape May County Special Services School until middle school.

“His first contact with regular kids was being on the track team,” she said. “It was great for him. But it still took him three years to work up to a full day in Upper Township Middle School. Joey has always been in his home district.”

Recently, Ian went to work with his father, who was preparing a miniature golf course for the season on the Ocean City boardwalk. A tall, gangly young man, Ian ran over to shake hands, then ran off again through the golf course.

Small plans to have Joey attend Ocean City High School, but admits to being a little nervous.

“It is more challenging,” she said. “But I can see how he’s made progress in school this year.”

Small understands how hard it is for Joey and Ian to make friends. She has quarterly dinners at her home to which she invites his classmates and friends of her daughter, who is not disabled.

“People worry about these kids being in a regular school,” Small said. “But the other kids have been great.”