Advancing the Possibilities
April 9, 2021
Most of us never know our inner strength until we’re faced with a life-altering situation. How we respond to that challenge can make all the difference in the world. Carol Giles, manager, Regulated General Business Services, has faced that challenge and is continuing to conquer the most important battle of her life.
“I am an autism mother, warrior and advocate – probably in that order,” said Carol, who is based out of the Harrison Power Station. “Fourteen years ago, when I learned that my son, Chris, had autism, I had no idea what that would mean to my life. To my knowledge I had never met anyone with autism, and I had no idea about available resources,” she admits. “It took a lot of work and research. Now I’m finally at the point where I can be one of those resources to help others.”
Carol works with local and state autism groups to ensure education and resources are available to families when they feel overwhelmed from dealing with autism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is four times more common among boys than girls. Chris, who is 17 now, was diagnosed right before his third birthday.
“These are our kids. We need more research as to what is causing ASD and how to mitigate it,” said Carol.
Providing Help Where Needed
Carol currently serves as vice president of the state board of the Autism Society – West Virginia. In that role, she has attended several “Day on the Hill” events in Washington, D.C., meeting with state congressional representatives and senators to advocate for autism.
“We also hold an annual two-day Autism Across the Lifespan Conference with Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, for teachers, parents, therapists and people with ASD, to provide education and training,” she said.
For Carol, one of the biggest challenges of ASD is that it disrupts everything you believe is going to happen when your child is born.
“Everything takes more work – school, social situations, your child’s development. Sometimes your expectations have to change but your focus becomes more intense to achieve a more successful outcome,” she explained.
For example, Carol noted that when Chris was younger the teachers would have to clear the room when he had an ASD behavior issue. Also, because of sensory issues with light, there were certain hallways he would not walk down, which posed a problem going to and from classes.
“At home, we had to bolt all of our doors and fence in the yard to prevent him from running away. We stopped going out to dinner because of his behavior issues, and Chris and I had to watch my daughter, Kitrina’s, softball games from the car,” she added. “These are just a few examples. It was challenging.”
Moving in a Positive Direction
Carol said that with targeted therapies and treatments and solving medical issues that can aggravate and cause problems, improvements can be made with ASD, but it takes a lot of work and trial and error.
“We put in that work and continue to work with a great autism doctor and resources. Chris has come a long way. There are no destructive behaviors, no clearing of classrooms, no running. We work closely with his school, where he now can focus on his schoolwork and do well.”
Carol participates on the board of the Corridor Chapter Autism Society – West Virginia, which represents seven counties.
“We have been able to do so many things. We have monthly events targeting community inclusion, education and socialization for families affected by ASD. We hold an annual swim challenge where our kids work with the Fairmont State University swim team to learn skills,” she said. “We also have held STEM events and took the kids zip-lining.”
Carol, who began her career at Allegheny Energy, has been with the company for 37 years. She said her coworkers have been great.
“They really have provided me with wonderful support and have stepped up for a number of our Walk for Autism events,” she said.
Carol also writes articles for the West Virginia Center of Autism’s magazine. Her latest story featured the family’s journey in getting Chris certified in scuba diving.
“He now has his advanced certification and also has become a great traveler,” said Carol. “The most important message I want to convey is that people with ASD have so much potential. Like everything else, I say this for myself and Chris, it is important to find the right passion and build on the possibilities.”