In 2003, at the age of 2, Benjamin was diagnosed as having Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) - a form of Autism. He's a perfect child, of course, he just doesn't seem to want to talk much or look us in the eye. For anyone who has an Autistic child, you know the worry, the pain and also the utter happiness and love that this condition can bring out in you. My Benji is the light of my life, as is his older brother Billy, and I would take a thousand Benji's over any other child on Earth...
|His image, to me, is emblematic of Benji's world now. Surrounded by his mother and grandmother, his view is still monochromatic, at least as far as we know at this point in his very young life. My job will not only be to make sure he receives the education he'll need to live in this world with the rest of us, but also to teach him how to recognize the colors and nuances of human existence, and, most importantly, to feel the love that is given to him each and every day.|
|Benji on his 3rd Birthday.|
Meanwhile, Benji's older brother Billy is the Character of the family. Billy often will entertain us all with his stories and antics. While still only 4 years old, he tested at the Second Grade level on most of his aptitudes, and was granted early enrollment into school as a result. He is quite often much smarter than all of us, and doesn't hesitate to let us all know it!He's also, as you can see, the most adorable little boy you'll ever meet.
|Both Billy and Benji like lots of bubbles in their bath. We put bubble "crowns" on our heads and pretend to be "Prince Billy" and "King Papa" - some of the bubbles these boys generate themselves...|
Some shots of all of us at play - a day on our farm with Billy and his cousin Sonia running down to the Pond, Juile and I at the beach in North Carolina, and finally a shot of the whole family in the surf off of Corolla, NC.
|Here's a nice shot of Juliette and Billy on the back porch one late afternoon.|
|Julie and Benji sharing a quiet moment.|
|Here she is with Billy, sharing a not-so-quiet moment...|
|I taught Benji how to use the computer by his 3rd Birthday - he now logs on, accesses his favorite sites, and navigates through them (mostly Elmo, Dora the Explorer, and occasionally, the TeleTubbies). Both of our kids seem to know the computer intuitively.|
|If he's not on the computer, Benji loves to draw (he's left-handed which surprised all of us), and/or watch someone else using the computer. He also reads books, and by 3 knew all of his ABC's and could count to 25 in English and Spanish. Like many kids with Autism, he doesn't quite "fit" with the classic set of symptoms - he can count easily, but won't talk about other things. He can navigate the computer, but still leads us by the hand to things he wants.|
|Eye Contact is very difficult to get from Benji, unless you catch him unawares, or if he wants something from you. One strange part of this condition is that he will generally look us right in the eye if we are facing a mirror, like the reflection doesn't bother him, but direct gaze does. This is improving as we work more with him, and he is such a handsome fellow that we are rewarded each time...|
|Billy, on the other hand, has no problem making eye-contact, making fart sounds, making a mess of the living room during one of his "experiments" - you name it...|
|I think Halloween is more fun for the mom's than it is for the kids in the early years. Benji didn't seem to mind his costume, except for the hat, which kept coming off and dropped on the floor...|
And here, we've got the Clown and the Bumble-Bee - both tired and ready for bed. One interesting note - Billy and Benji are 1.5 years apart in age (everyone thinks they are twins), but Benji weighs 55 lbs, and Billy (the older brother) weighs 52 lbs. Something tells me Billy had better be very, very nice to his younger brother in the future...
|Here they are on Benji's 3rd Birthday, checking out a new toy...|
|A great picture of Billy and his Grandma Pam. Grandma Pam lives in the house in the background. We put up a nice 3 bedroom place on the farm for mom where she has a view of the pond and her own deck. That way, the whole family lives on the Juergensen "compound."|
|Benji loves to swing, and as his balance has improved has even started to get on the swing set himself...|
|Benji takes a walk around the farm - those are the hills of West Virginia behind him.|
|The Juergensen Men sitting on the beach...|
|I don't know what he was thinking about when we shot this picture, but it probably involved Super Mario Brothers or something else for Nintendo Game Cube (Billy's current favorite video game box).|
|Our Benji. I TOLD you I've got some good looking kids...|
|Finally - the two folks responsible for making these critters. We've had the "third-child" conversation over and over, with me voting "yes" and Julie voting "no." Since she has to do 99% of the work in making them (my 1% being the fun part), her side is still winning... Dang!|