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Patti McCloud: Raising a Child with Autism
By Nancy Kennedy

Jordan McCloudRaising a child with autism is sometimes exhausting, sometimes exasperating and sometimes exhilarating. Patti McCloud experiences all of that, and much more, with her son Jordan, age 18, who was diagnosed at 2 1/2 years of age and is severely autistic and non-verbal. She was a first-time mother when Jordan was born, the first baby in a year that brought her large, extended family a total of four new babies. "Although Jordan was the oldest of the four babies, he was behind developmentally. It was obvious that he was developing differently. He was an easygoing, content baby; he never cried and tried to get his needs met. He was too perfect," she recalls.

When he was still not saying words by eighteen months, McCloud and her husband thought that perhaps Jordan had a hearing problem. Their pediatrician referred them to Children's Hospital for an evaluation – and the diagnosis was devastating. "We had no idea what it meant; autism was unknown to us. We were presented with a long list of 'nevers' – Jordan will never do this, Jordan will never do that. I remember thinking, 'How do you know? How can you predict that?'"

There was more to Jordan than that initial evaluation suggested – and there was a lot more to Patti McCloud, as she would soon discover. Being Jordan's mother meant that she had to change, in order to meet his needs and act as his advocate. She had to learn how to effectively deal with the healthcare system and the education system. And so she stepped up – and she's been knocking it out of the park ever since. McCloud has gone to Harrisburg and Washington D.C. to lobby for autism funding; she has chaired a walk for autism, with thousands of people; she became a public speaker – something she feared and never imagined doing – and shared her story. She now works for Pressley Ridge as a business development specialist and parent advocate, providing a parents perspective as she helps the organization identify gaps in services and opportunities for improvement.

Throughout her journey with Jordan, McCloud has benefitted from a nexus of support, thanks to her family, her church, her ex-husband, other parents and autism organizations. She has another child, her daughter Nicole, age 14, who is four years younger than Jordan but is a loving, kind "Big Sister" who sings to her brother and has a special way with him. It's not easy – the McCloud home is organized to protect and accommodate Jordan's special needs, but McCloud feels that their experiences with Jordan have made them all more patient and compassionate people.

And Jordan? Jordan is a joy. He loves music, especially gospel; he enjoys watching music videos on youtube. He was thrilled to attend the special autism-friendly performance of The Lion King last year. He loves going to PNC Park to watch the Pirates play. And he loves his school, Clarence Brown Education Center in Butler. He is in the Life Skills program, where he takes academic classes as well as Community Based Vocational Training, which for Jordan means a job helping out at Pizza Hut, with a job coach. He will finish school in three years, and planning for his future beyond that is in progress.

"Jordan is happy," his mother says. "There's a purity in the things he does. He may be non-verbal, but he comprehends so much. I think there is a lot inside of him that we don't know about, an inner richness. He's happy with simple things, and has a loving, sweet side. He loves our family so much. I wish that people would understand this: that he can hear you, and he understands the things you say, and he has feelings just like anyone else. He just expresses his feelings differently. I think people could learn a lot from Jordan; I know that I have."

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