It takes a village: Andrew Manns’s story inspires hope for autism community

“Autism” refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States today.

When Andrew Manns was 5, his mother, Rebecca Brantley, noticed all the hallmark signs of a child on the autism spectrum. This included distance, babbling, and underdeveloped social skills as well as difficulty processing things and people. He had delayed speech and development, avoided eye contact, and disliked changes to his routine. Manns also experienced sudden mood changes and gastrointestinal problems.

After noticing these developments, Brantley took her son to the local pediatric doctor, Dr. Cedric Porter, who then referred Manns to a neurologist in Augusta.

As a parent, all you can hope for is that your child is loving, caring, and respectful. Brantley says that her son has always had these qualities.

“I honestly try not to see my child as different, yet I know he is,” she explained. “I chose to do my research and raise him no different than his brother. They are like night and day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If we are in a crowd and everyone else in the crowd has all their ducks in a row, Andrew is not wanting to be still, he’s in his own world of chasing squirrels and screaming, ‘Butterfly!’”

As a baby, Manns sustained an injury at a local daycare. According to his mother, at the age of 5 months, he went from being an active, happy baby to just lying around, blankly and quietly staring with no emotion. Manns had extensive had trauma from the incident, and he spent a week at Egleston in Atlanta. After many CT scans and brainwave monitoring, Brantley decided to deal with her son’s injury the best way she knew how.

“I educated myself and raised him no different than I would’ve incident or not. To this day, he still has a slightly visible scar between his eyes and under his left eye. He had a skull fracture and bleeding that day as well as bruising and swelling. I never received a straight answer as to what happened to him.”

Manns started having seizures at the age of 1. By 2-years-old, he was diagnosed with Dystonic Tourettes. He experiences different tics daily. Stress triggers a majority of his tics as well as seizures.

Manns was also labeled as a non-verbal autistic. Doctors had very little hope for him to speak at all. However, his mother had hope, and her son started seeing Jill Scarboro at Growing Communication shortly after his diagnosis. Scarboro worked with him relentlessly from age 5 until 14. It only took a year for her to “work her magic.” He was speaking by age 6.

“I highly recommend her and Growing Communication as the best speech pathologist in this area,” Brantley added sentimentally.

Manns is much like other kids his age now. He is 17 and a junior at Swainsboro High School. He still struggles with speech occasionally and regulating emotions, but he manages. He has less agitation and has become more talkative with age.

An extensive support system and wonderful healthcare professionals have set him up for success.

Manns still sees Dr. Porter under Amanda Jarreal and now goes to neurologist Dr. Kashyep Patel in Statesboro.

His mother lists several others in his circle.

“He has a lot of ‘special’ people who have taken time with him and have shown him love. To name a few teachers: ‘Mama Jill’ (Jill Bagwell Canady), ‘Mama April’ (April Kea), ‘Mama Jill 2’ (Jill Scarboro), ‘Ms. Manda’ (Amanda Harmon), ‘Ms. Silly’ (Cel Thompson), ‘Ms. Lessie’ (Leslie Rowland), ‘Ms. Spiky Hair’ (DeLaine McReynolds), and ‘Lady with Orange Hair’ (Ms. Donelle Carter).”

These names are how he recognizes people, how he sees them, and how he refers to them in his own way. There have been many teachers who have been a positive impact.

Manns has been supported by family and friends as well, including his grandma Celia Mathis, who has always been there for him. She was right by his side for doctor visits, scheduled tests, and hospital stays.

He is also grateful for his older brother, Deputy Sgt. C.J. Green of Jenkins County; his 2 favorite cousins, Blake and Jaxson Lee; and his favorite aunt, “Aunt Crissle”, Crystal Lee, who sadly passed away October 2, 2021. More family include his “Aunt Bess” and “Bray-Bray,” Bess Bennett and Braydon Lanier; his “Aunt Kim,” Kim Henry; and his “Nana,” Kim Lamb Reese.

His four best friends are Jacob Paul, Jacob Snell, Deon Jordan, and CJ Bryant.

As for advice for other parents, Brantley says, “Look for the signs. Don’t ignore what you don’t know. Educate yourself & know what to expect. Focus on the normal, everyday things and learn how different and difficult they seem.

“It is best to just be straightforward. Explain what the Autism spectrum disorder is and what it is not. Give them the best information that you have. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, help research it along with them. Education is the key. Be a friend and help, not just in good times. It is during difficult times that we learn who our real friends are. I am forever grateful to those teachers, friends, and even family members who have supported him over the years. They made a choice to accept my son for who he is and helped us in any way they could.”

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