EUGENE, Ore. – At some point in our lives, we’ve all been assured, “it’s going to be okay.” As much as we want to believe that person, it’s not always easy.
Two local women were brought together by those words, but they were also brought together and will forever be linked by autism and the Great Rotary Duck Race.
“Bridgeway House serves children and families affected by autism and other learning disabilities,” said Patricia Wigney, Bridgeway House Executive Director.
Wigney has experience with disabilities, beyond her role as executive director Bridgeway House.
“She was different, she was quieter,” Wigney said.
Wigney is a mother of four; her youngest, Zso-Fika.
“She would wake up screaming at night, go limp, up for hours and a rocking horse, we couldn’t sleep, my husband and I would work in shifts. We knew something was seriously wrong,” Wigney said.
At the age of two and a half Zso-Fika was diagnosed with autism.
“You’re kind of like, whoa and here’s some information and on that pamphlet it said, your child might have to be institutionalized, Wigney said.
No institutions, just hard work and home therapy for Zso-Fika. Learning social skills, communication and how to interact with others.
“You can’t just say let’s fix the child, that’s just not possible,” Wigney said.
For Wigney and her husband it meant a new way of parenting. Zso-Fika’s now 17 years old with a 3.85 GPA and plans for college.
“I am really proud of her. She’s writing her personal essay to the University of Oregon this week where she starts off by saying, ‘When I was young, I was diagnosed with autism,” Wigney said.
Wigney’s experience, and that of other parents, led to the creation of the Bridgeway House.
Cindy Winkle’s path began much like Wigney’s did, with an inkling her daughter Norah’s behavior just wasn’t right.
“So she would cling to me. If I got up, she got up. If I shifted to the side, she shifted to the side,” Winkle said.
Later, confirmation from doctors.
“She has autism, she may never speak, shakes her head,” Winkle said.
Winkle was given the Bridgeway House phone number, which she folded up and set aside.
“It’s sad to say, but you actually grieve your child. You grieve the child you thought you were going to have,” Winkle said.
Six weeks later Cindy and Norah, met Patricia.
“I was very anxious because I didn’t know what to expect and she was like ‘it’ll be okay, we’ll get the people in your home, she’ll be alright. I see the love in the family and I know it’s going to be okay,’” Winkle said.
Money soon raised at a fundraiser would cover Norah’s scholarship and home therapy began. First beginning with separation; first a different chair for Cindy, 5 feet then 10 feet away.
“Then finally out to the hall, with the door open and then at three months, we were able to be with me in the hall and the door shut,” Winkle said.
After three months, tears of joy.
“Cause you’re so happy. Like, okay, we’re going to be able to do this, she’s gonna make this step and we’re gonna make more steps. It’s joyful, Winkle said.
Winkles says Norah’s still a bit quiet, but she’s in a typical second grade classroom receiving help with math, reading and speech.
“She’s my little superstar, I always say that to her, I call her my sunshine and superstar all the time.” Winkle said. “I’m glad she’s not like everybody else, she’s my daughter and I love her for it.”
In Lane County one in every 57 kids have autism, making work by Bridgeway House even more critical in protecting kids from abuse and neglect.
To help the Bridgeway House buy a Great Rotary Duck Race ticket, on sale at Bi-Mart and Dari-Mart stores through Friday.