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Parents of 21-year-old focus on ‘blessings’ that accompanied autism diagnosis

Parents of 21-year-old focus on ‘blessings’ that accompanied autism diagnosis

OLATHE - Isaac Swindler stands out in a crowd because of his smile, engaging personality, kindness and genuine love for life. 

Oh, and the 21-year-old, who was diagnosed with autism as a young boy, happens to be 6 feet, 7 inches tall. 

As he hurriedly made his way from room to room at Homestead Assisted Living in Olathe, residents smiled and waved at Swindler as he emptied trash cans during a recent work shift. Swindler is so tall that he must bend to enter and exit the residents’ rooms. 

He greeted each resident by name. In the lobby area, he even took time to get a soda and snack for one of the female residents. She was sitting in an overstuffed chair by a large window watching people. The woman beamed at Isaac and thanked him for the treats. 

Swindler’s mom, Jaimie, watched her son closely as he finished his shift. She couldn’t help but smile as she talked about the significant strides he has made since being diagnosed with autism at age 6. 

After he finished his shift, Isaac sat down to enjoy his own cold soda and talk about life with autism. He shared how picky of an eater he can be because of his dislike for certain food textures. Isaac is a vegetarian, like his mom. He recalled as a high schooler entering and exiting rooms numerous times and turning lights off and on a certain number of times because of an obsessive-compulsive disorder that he developed. Thanks to the right medications, his OCD tendencies subsided, and he has learned how to better handle some of his autistic behaviors. 

“Nothing really fixes it,” Swindler said. “Medicine helps. You have to find the one that works best with the least side effects.” 

Jaimie Swindler and her husband, Sean, met while attending The University of Kansas in Lawrence. Jaimie Swindler, who is a member of the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year team, was studying special education at KU at the time. 

Ironically, even before their son was born, both chose careers that put them in a world where they encounter autism daily. Jaimie Swindler is a special education teacher at Ottawa High School, Ottawa Unified School District 290. Sean Swindler is the director of community program development and evaluation at the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training at KU and project manager for the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities.  

Isaac was the couple’s first and only child, and they didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary at first. 

“There were some slight delays,” Jaimie Swindler said. “He didn’t sit up as well, and he struggled with social skills. But when it’s your own kid, you don’t know what you don’t know. The school really helped us identify it. They were open and honest with us.” 

Today, everyone who spends time watching Isaac Swindler can tell that he loves his job as a hospitality aide at Homestead. He is at ease and comfortable with the residents. He passes out plates at lunch, cleans tables, empties trash from residents’ rooms and has even started announcing numbers during Bingo games. 

“There are so many nice people here,” he said. “It’s so peaceful.” 

After trying a few other jobs, Swindler found he prefers working at Homestead instead of in big, bustling stores.  

He worked with a job coach to find the perfect fit for him. 

“That job coach really helped bridge the gap,” Jaimie Swindler said. 

At first, Isaac’s mother worried about how he would react when a resident died. But Isaac has reassured her that while it can be difficult for him, he knows it is part of life. 

Isaac Swindler enjoys the residents at Homestead, and he has developed close friendships with residents and co-workers alike. 

“He works really hard and takes directions really well,” said Lauren Wheeler, executive director of Olathe’s Homestead Assisted Living. “He loves the residents, and the residents love him. He’s a great guy.” 

Although Swindler loves his job, he only works part-time for now because of knee issues caused by his height. He already has had surgery on one knee and plans to have another procedure in the coming months. 

The 21-year-old isn’t sure what the future has in store for him – “I really don’t know about the future,” he said. When his mom asked him if he wants to be a husband someday, he shot her a sideways glance and smiled shyly. 

For now, he enjoys his work life and friends; spending time with his beloved cat, Luke, and his dog, Daisy; hanging out with family members; and watching Disney Pixar movies. While he saves the money he earns, he also likes to spend a little of it sometimes to add to his action figure collection. 

Swindler’s parents have never considered his autism a hindrance. Sure, there have been challenges, but autism has made Isaac who he is, his mom said. 

“We talk about the blessings that come with autism,” Jaimie Swindler said. “He is a really kind person. Twenty years later, it’s just who he is.” 

And Isaac doesn’t seem to mind either. 

“I like being unique and myself,” he said with a giant grin. “I’m just me.” 

Posted: Apr 20, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush
Tags: Autism

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