City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Wonderfully Made

April is Autism Awareness Month and one local couple affirms the potential of those on the spectrum

One pregnancy. Thirty fingers. Thirty toes. As first-time parents to triplet boys 21 years ago, Fayette County ENT, Dr. Dozier Hood and his wife, Mary Wall Hood, assumed everything was as it should be.   

After in vitro fertilization, Mary Wall had carried the babies to full term and the family of five headed home three days after Charles, Russell and Wright were born, each of them weighing more than 5 pounds. Feeding, diapering and rocking times three, required the help of family and generous friends who volunteered. 

“It was all-on and wild and a lot going on all the time,” Dozier recalls. 

Slowly, however, cracks appeared in the Hood's assumptions of normalcy that would change their lives forever.

Wright didn’t crawl, and although he eventually walked, he was delayed in speech, had different mannerisms and difficulty potty training. At four, he was still not communicating. A developmental pediatrician watched him play with blocks, looked at Mary Wall and said, “Your son is autistic.”

“I didn’t know what that was,” Mary Wall admits. “Twenty years ago, people didn’t use that word. But I knew it was a big deal.”

Ignoring the advice of a pediatrician friend, she researched autism online. Every article blamed the mother. “It was devastating,” she says. “Totally devastating. I thought I’d done something wrong.”

With no time for tears, the Hoods focused on each step of helping their son through physical therapy and language. Their focus helped prepare them for the next diagnoses they would receive.

Unlike his brother Wright, Charles, at 6 years old was communicating, but not talking. He was ultimately diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, now considered an autism spectrum disorder.

About eight years later, Russell was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

“We were just short of being overwhelmed continuously,” Dozier remembers, and as a couple they quickly learned the necessity and importance of taking time for themselves and their marriage.

Accepting that perfection wasn’t an option, the Hoods also learned to adapt activities as the boys participated in sports and Boy Scouts, and to let go of things that didn’t work for them.

Still, there were academic and social difficulties at school, including significant bullying. And, although the boys had many wonderful teachers, getting the services they needed wasn’t easy. “You have to fight for what you feel your child needs and that fight can be extremely painful and nonstop,” Dozier says.

Finding community for their family was also difficult. Wright and Charles lacked friends and social opportunities in high school and when high school ended their community shrank even more.

“It’s been difficult to find a place for them and sometimes for us with them, be it school, church or community, and we’ve realized we’re not the only folks who have that problem,” Dozier says. “We want to help see community, church and ministry options expand for people with special needs.”

Their search for community led the Hoods to Young Life Capernaum, which provides clubs, camps and activities for students and young adults with special needs. Now, they serve on the national board and Dozier teaches Bible through the program. Dozier also serves on the board of Two Sparrows Village, a proposed Fayette County development that will provide housing and community for adults with special needs.

Although Fayette County offers day services and recreation for special needs individuals, the Hoods dream of more job opportunities. “Most of them really want to work, serve and help other people,” Dozier says. “They don’t want to be continuously on the receiving end and treated like children. They’re adults. These are real people. They deserve every bit of respect that anybody has and should not be belittled ever. They just need a chance.”

Despite their boys’ struggles, the Hoods never held low expectations, and they’ve celebrated many victories and accomplishments. “Our ultimate expectations are independence and happiness,” Dozier says.  

Charles now lives in Decatur at the Threshold Community Program. Wright attends the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in Massachusetts, a music school for young adults with special needs. Russell lives at home, works two jobs and is the chief caregiver to Sunny, their sweet yellow Lab.

The Hoods want to encourage other parents of special needs children to take time for themselves and, most importantly, never give up. “I really don’t feel like I’m doing it right a lot of times,” Mary Wall confesses, “but I’m never going to quit trying.”

Unlike 21 years ago, autism, which Dozier says is profoundly more prevalent, is a familiar term.  But the Hoods also want people to realize the love, spirit and potential that those with autism, or ‘different abilities’ as they like to say, have to offer. “They’re gifts,” Mary Wall says. 

Dozier agrees. “We are challenged, but richer from not only having children that have different abilities, but becoming intimately involved in the lives of others with special abilities, and realizing how our lives are enhanced by having these friends,” he says. “Every community is extremely poor if people with different abilities are sidelined - every church, every community, every workplace, every school - because it adds so much that’s positive, so much joy and kindness, just sincere simplicity that we all forget about."

 “We’re all fearfully and wonderfully made, and God has a plan for us. God doesn’t make mistakes and the biggest mistake for us is forgetting that.”

Two Sparrows Village will offer a place for special needs adults, who have aged out of the school system, to live in a truly inclusive community alongside those without special needs. “It will have a profoundly positive impact for Fayette County,” board member Dr. Dozier Hood says. For more information visit twosparrowsvillage.org.

  • Mary Wall and Dr. Dozier Hood
  • Russell, Charles & Wainwright Hood
  • Sunny - the family companion
  • Autism Awareness Month
  • Wainwright, Russell, Charles and Sunny