Learning to face a challenge

Brad Holthaus, Publisher

One in 150 children is autistic. That means the child has a serious problem with communication and social skills, and a restricted range of activities and interests. There is no cure, and only a few of these children grow up to live independently.

April is Autism Awareness Month, but Robert Jordan, Overdrive 2006 Trucker of the Year, doesn’t need the calendar to put the topic on his mind. As soon as he and his wife, Jean, noticed abnormal behavior in their son, Matthew – excessive time staring at the sky and failure to make eye contact – they got him diagnosed.

“My wife dedicated a good part of her life to helping him,” Robert recalls. She would sit with him in an empty room to work on letters and words, forcing him to focus on her and on learning. The Jordans home-schooled Matthew until he was a teen, when they integrated him into a Christian school.

Now, at 27, Matthew plays organ and cleans at his church. He also helps with receipts and cleaning at his dad’s shop, where they produce Robert’s invention, Idlefree kits, for Mack Trucks and do occasional installations.

Robert’s advice to parents of an autistic child is to seek help and seek it quickly. He’s convinced Jean’s intensive work in Matthew’s early years played a major role in his successful development.

Most of us don’t have a family member with that severe disability. Nevertheless, we all could do well to heed Robert’s advice when we seek to resolve any problem, be it personal or professional, in our own lives or the lives of those around us.

As Robert and Jean sought professional advice and training for their son, they realized that conquering this challenge was broader than they thought. “You think you’re getting treatment for your child,” Robert says, “but you’re actually getting treatment for yourself.”