A Love Letter from Emily White

Emily White:

Dear Lowcountry,

You have raised me. I was born in July of 2000 at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, and from there I was brought home to James Island. I was the first child my parents had, and it remained that way for another two years, until my brother was born. We all lived together in a cozy home that I don’t remember much of, except that there was a koi pond, sunflowers, and big trees. We remained there for the next four years, until my parents decided to move to Mount Pleasant. The following years, I was signed up for numerous sports and attended many city coordinated activities with my family. We were never bored.

Hurricane Irene, 2011, with my brother, Louis

Hurricane Irene, 2011, with my brother, Louis

This past summer, for the first time, I went West Coast. West Coast, Best Coast was a saying I had heard many times, and before my trip, I believed it to be true. We drove all along the California coast, and it being the dead of summer, we stopped at more than a few beaches, and to put it candidly, they didn’t meet my expectations. The beaches could not compare to the ones I had back home. I desperately missed Isle of Palms (IOP), Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach, where you were guaranteed water at the perfect temperature, and beaches that weren’t too crowded (especially if you went to the right spot during the right time). Another thing I frequently missed when traveling was our famous Charleston sunsets. I have never traveled anywhere where the sunset was as beautiful and colorful as it is in Charleston, South Carolina. My family’s go to spots to witness this Lowcountry treasure are the Pitt Street Bridge, and the Waterfront Park Pier, but our own backyard also serves the sight justice. 

My family's addition to the Charleston Strong wall, downtown

My family's addition to the Charleston Strong wall, downtown

One of the other many things that I love about my home is the opportunity it has given me. I am able to go to one of the best high schools in the nation, hang out downtown with my friends, play Ultimate Frisbee with my parents, and run the Ravenel Bridge whenever I want (something 40,000 people from all over the country come to do once a year). And, if the rare feeling of boredom comes about, you can guarantee that a city activity is happening.

My family, exploring Botany Bay, earlier this year

My family, exploring Botany Bay, earlier this year

Today, I begin my junior year of high school, so the topic of college keeps working its way into the conversations I have with relatives, advisors, and friends. I was born and bred in the Lowcountry and I carry that with me everywhere I go. I’m excited to make my own way, but I also dread the day I may have to say goodbye to the only home I have ever known. Regardless, I know with full confidence that the Lowcountry will always be part of me. For now I am enjoying the next two years under my parent's roof and care in this wonderful city. I am also enjoying the beaches, the sunsets, the weather, and the people whom are unlike any other that I will ever experience anywhere else.

Love,
Emily 

Bio (By Emily Gildea):
Emily lives in Mt. Pleasant with her parents, Eric and Meredith, and her two siblings, Lewis and Molly. Today, she starts her junior year of Academic Magnet High School with her brother starting as a freshman. Emily is an active community volunteer and wrote this letter without any coaxing from a parental unit. I personally connect to Emily through our shared namesake and height advantages.

Autism & Special Needs Resources in the Lowcountry

Today's post is written by Sarah Fitzellen, my best friend of over 30 years. When I moved to the Lowcountry in 2010, Sarah had just had her second son, and my second Godson. Through the years of being in different cities, we traveled back and forth, made numerous phone calls, and checked on the invention of teleportation on a daily basis. Last year, my dreams came true and Sarah moved to the Lowcountry. Read below for her excellent reasoning. This woman deserves Mother of the Year, every year.

Sarah:

I moved to the Lowcountry in May 2014, to give both of my children opportunities I could never imagine existed in the small city we’d left in Southwest Virginia. In particular, I was looking for better special needs services for my oldest son, Jesse, who has high functioning Autism. Here are some of the things I have come to find amazing and truly love about the special needs services for a child with Autism (or other special needs) in the Lowcountry.  

Amazing Public Schools
Charleston County School District (CCSD) has been good to my family. We were blessed to move to the Mount Pleasant, SC, area which has very highly rated schools. I have found a welcome and wonderful educational system within the department of “exceptional children” at CCSD with a phenomenal program of dedicated resource teachers, support staff and principals who are willing to listen and help each individual child. I have always felt “in touch” with my son’s team and I know exactly what is going on. My voice is heard and I am as much an integral part of his education as any other. With the help of his 7th grade resource teacher, my son is now independent in all of his classes and is thriving. I feel incredibly grateful every day for each of his teachers and other staff members who are making my son a successful student and human for this world. I could not do it without them. 

As a note, I also hear fantastic things about many of the private schools in this area and many of Jesse’s peers attend Trident Academy and Bishop England High School. As parents in the Lowcountry, we are lucky to have choices for our children.

Special Services
When we moved, my greatest hope was that my son could have some services that we had not had available where we previously lived. And I was happily surprised at the variety of services available in the Lowcountry that we had not previously tried before. Of course, there is physical, speech and occupational therapy (and at many locations in every neighborhood, all over Charleston and beyond), but now we suddenly had the opportunity for Social Skills groups, like the one that Jesse attended through Project Rex at MUSC and is now attending at the Early Autism Project here in Mount Pleasant. Also, when we first moved here, we were disappointed to find out that ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) was only offered to children under 11 in SC, but, last year in February, the law changed and Medicaid must cover all children for ABA Therapy up to age 21. My child will also be receiving this service for the first time. This seems like a HUGE triumph for us, as he was initially referred for behavior therapy when he was 8 years old and there were no providers in the Southwest Virginia area. He has waited 7 years to get this service that he has deserved and needed desperately. We can’t wait to start this therapy through the Early Autism Project in Mount Pleasant this month.

Support
One of the greatest resources that I have found for me, as a parent of a child with autism, is a support group (I didn’t have to create on my own!) sponsored by EAP (Early Autism Project). Every Second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. they host a support group at their Mount Pleasant branch which is fantastic. Every month they have a different speaker come in and talk to the group about different services available in our area. We have had speakers from the Charleston Autism Society, Lowcountry Autism Foundation, Estate Planning, Medicaid Planning, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) assistance, etc. Without this help and support, none of what I have been able to do would have been possible. 

Activities
Since moving, we have tried to take advantage of any and every activity that comes up that we didn’t have before. Last January, my son got involved with the Mount Pleasant Parks and Recreation Department and the Unified Sports that they offer. Unified Sports are linked with Special Olympics. Shelli Davis is the director here in Mount Pleasant and does a fantastic job. In January, Jesse joined the Piranhas swim team and in May swam in the Summer Games of the Special Olympics, which was an amazing experience. He has also played basketball, softball, kickball and is currently playing soccer through the Unified Sports leagues. Additionally, Jesse enjoyed a golf clinic this summer through Lowcountry Autism Foundation which was a free clinic at Patriot's Point. 

Moving Forward
Lastly, there is so much science and innovation around us in the Lowcountry. There are many doctors and scientists wanting to understand the 'why' of Autism and wanting to make sure we make our kids feel whole in this world. Every September, the Lowcountry Autism Consortium has the world's largest FREE autism conference. I attended this conference a few weeks ago and was blown away. Look it up and plan to attend next year. Again, it’s free, but the wisdom you gain is worth more than gold. 

For more information:
http://www.lafinc.org/
http://lowcountryautismconsortium.org/
http://earlyautismproject.com/
http://www.ccsdschools.com/Academic/ExceptionalChildren/index.php
http://www.projectrex.org/