Harsh reality

Malissa Mundorff is the first to concede that raising her son, Raven, is no day at the beach.

The 9-year-old has PDD-NOS, a form of autism called pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

Raven is nonverbal, extremely active and, it’s safe to say, has to be watched all the time. Instead of speaking, he grunts or cries out his emotions.

“Mentally, they say he’s about 18 months,” his mother said.

Malissa sits in the living room of her home just off Route 87 above Montoursville. Out of the corner of her eye, she watches her son, a body in constant motion.

Sometimes he hangs on the stairway railing or in the windowsill of the stair landing, emitting shrieks and shouts. Quite suddenly, he races across the room for the couch.

It’s hard to know what he wants or is thinking as he suddenly surrenders to what appears to be a brief crying fit.

Malissa and her older son, Caleb, 15, seem resigned to it all.

A diagnosis of autism is made when an individual displays at least six of 12 symptoms in three major areas: social interaction, communication, and repetitive patterns of behavior or interest.

PDD-NOS, as well as Asperger’s syndrome, are forms of autism spectrum disorder. Such disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate, understand language and play and relate to others.

Those who do not show all symptoms of autism may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS.

Malissa said her son can be social but normally only with adults.

“He won’t engage in play with other children,” she said.

He can be very violent, she added. A gaping hole in the ceiling came as the result of one of Raven’s mad fits.

He has hit his mother, once even breaking her glasses, and he broke his nurse’s wrist.

“I have bars nailed to his bedroom window,” she said.

Raven likes to gnaw on things. He’s even been known to bite the family dog, a big, sturdy pit bull.

In essence, it can be difficult to live with Raven.

Malissa said she first knew Raven was a little different when he was about 6 months old.

“He was still pretty much like a newborn,” she said.

Since an early age, he has received occupational, physical and speech therapy.

Malissa said it’s always a challenge handling Raven. Everything can be a little more difficult than it is with a child who doesn’t have autism.

Because many people remain in the dark about various autism spectrum disorders, Raven’s public outbursts can draw negative reactions.

It would help, Malissa said, “if people would just be a little more understanding.”

Raven’s grandmother, Jeannette Mundorff, of Muncy, said people simply don’t understand that he is not a bad kid, but someone with PDD-NOS.

“The other week she was at Wal-Mart and some people said, ‘he needs a good spanking,’ because he was grabbing stuff off the shelf,” she said. “They don’t understand what’s it’s like.”

She said people need to be educated about children with such conditions.

Caleb said he feels special to have Raven as his brother. He’s contemplating a career in which he would work with autistic children.

“I feel special to have a brother like him,” he said.

Statistics now show that as many as one in 50 children are born with some form of autism, Malissa said, and it’s high time more people learn more about autism spectrum disorders.

“If people would just be a little more accepting,” she said.