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Patience and perseverance- The Kleinhans journey with autism



Left to right: Amanda, Apryle and Dalton Kleinhans (Photo courtesy of A. Kleinhans)

On July 10, 1995, Apryle Kleinhans gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Dalton. He was the final piece of the perfect little family Apryle, her husband Baron, and daughter Amanda had been dreaming of. 

It would only take an hour or two for them to remember that nothing is ever perfect. Apryle recalls a nurse coming to her room shortly after she’d given birth. “She asked me if it was possible for my baby to be addicted to drugs or something. Well, of course not! She said they were concerned because he was agitated and inconsolable.”

Dalton Kleinhans (Photo courtesy of A. Kleinhans)

Apryle told the nurse to bring Dalton to her room and there he stayed until it was time for them to go home.

Apryle soon noticed other “concerning” signs that something may be wrong. She said it didn’t take long for them to notice how very smart he seemed for an infant.

“He just didn’t want to sleep. Even that young, he had figured out how to reach behind his head and pull his hair to keep himself awake. He never slept more than two hours in a 24 hour period,” she said.

Exhausted, Apryle begged Dalton’s pediatrician for help. During his six-week checkup, Apryle explained how she wouldn’t have been able to function without her mother’s help.

Another very concerning thing was the “rages” Dalton frequently went into. “These were not typical fits. They were rages. His eyes were empty. Nobody could really do anything to help us because nobody else had experienced this stuff either.”

Apryle said they did the only thing they knew how to do – they just held him tight so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else until the breakdown was over. She said, “He continued to have rages until he was around 7-years-old. I’d just hold him as tightly as possible until his eyes began to come alive again. It was like I could see his soul coming back.”

Apryle said as Dalton got older, he once cried and told her he “just wanted to be normal”. The young mother’s heart was breaking for her son and she said they were both so very tired.

Once Dalton began school, things deteriorated even more. “Because he was so smart, he was very aware he didn’t fit in. Daycare and school settings were incredibly hard for him. Nobody understood him or how sad he was. He couldn’t make friends even though he wanted to.”

Dalton and Amanda Kleinhans (Photo courtesy of A. Kleinhans)

During this time, the Kleinhans had been desperately searching for answers and begging for help. Apryle said they finally found a team of childhood specialists to test him, and at age 5 Dalton was officially diagnosed with ADHD, ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

Dalton began anger management therapy at age 7 as well as different combinations of medicines that ranged everywhere from herbal supplements to controlled substances. Apryle said it was made even more difficult because she didn’t just want her son to just act calm, she wanted him to feel safe.

In third grade Dalton could solve advanced mathematical equations, but he struggled a lot that year because he was unable to explain how he arrived at his answers.

Apryle said, “I wish I’d known more about advocating for him when he was in public school. I didn’t know what to demand of them. I didn’t know they’re required by law to help my son, and they certainly never volunteered that information. It would be years before I’d ever even heard of an IEP (individualized educational plan). By that time, he had been officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and his schools made no accommodations for him.”

Then, a national tragedy occurred that terrified Apryle to her very core.

She recalled, “I called the school district shortly after the shootings at Columbine. I finally got the ear of a district secretary and explained to her that I wasn’t a mom calling to say someone is picking on my kid. I told her I was scared. I knew Dalton. He held grudges way too long. It’s like I felt something horrible brewing. Nobody wants to think their child is capable of something like that, but I was scared to death. And I was desperate for help. And they blew me off by saying ‘that’s just how kids are’.”

That was when Apryle says she gave up on fighting and pleading with the public school system. She allowed him to drop out at 14, and they attempted to do homeschooling with the help of his older sister. That was the beginning of Dalton spending the next few years living as a recluse. His mother said he wouldn’t talk to anyone, and wouldn’t leave his room until the rest of the family had gone to bed.

Dalton Kleinhans (Photo courtesy of A. Kleinhans)

Apryle stated that at that point she was so scared of losing her son to suicide, she was just relieved to be able to hear him and know he was alive in the next room.

The family was trying a number of counselors and therapists over the years, and Apryle said they finally found the right one in Ed Simpson (now retired).

Apryle said, “There was a long period of time when Ed and Amanda (Dalton’s sister) were the only people he would talk to.”

Then, at the age of 17, Dalton emerged from his room and announced he was not going to take anymore Vyvanse and he was going to force himself to live.

Apryle credits Dalton’s own determination and Simpson for the turnabout, but she also gives much credit to God. “I’d been praying desperately for 17 years for God to save my little boy, and He does things in His time.”

Apryle said the changes didn’t happen overnight, but eventually Dalton got his driver’s license, earned his GED, began socializing a bit and even landed his first job as a pizza delivery driver. 

The family’s relief was immeasurable, but they are aware there will always be some struggles and occasional setbacks. Dalton is currently off of all medications, living at home, and loves his coworkers and his job as a dealer at a local casino. 

As for advice to other families in similar situations, Apryle said, “Go to counseling. Go until you find the one that fits.  And have patience- patience with your child, patience with the process of getting a diagnosis, patience with the rest of your family, patience with yourself, and patience with God. And during the really trying times when you don’t think you can handle anything else, remember that it is even worse for your child who doesn’t have the ability to communicate what is wrong. And above all else, don’t give up. Never, ever give up.”

Left to right: Apryle, Dalton and Baron Kleinhans (Photo courtesy of A. Kleinhans)

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