Mother and son, together, cope with autism and multiple sclerosis – MLive.com

Jacob Austin depends on his mom, and she depends on him.

April Austin, a 33-year-old Eastern Michigan University student who suffers from blindness and other ailments related to multiple sclerosis, relies on a walking cane, a white cane and often her son to get around.

When she's in pain, 12-year-old Jacob, who is autistic, is there to help with things like carrying groceries up the stairs. Jacob relies on his mom for help with communication, focus, learning and emotional needs.

Hes not mentally capable of doing things in his age range right now, so that keeps me going because I know he depends on me, Austin said. "I need him because he keeps me moving. He gives me a reason to keep moving. I know that he needs me to help him with basic daily tasks like bathing and cutting his hair. No matter how bad I'm feeling, I know that he needs me to do those things, so it pushes me to get up and do those things for him.

Below is a peek inside the day-to-day lives of April and Jacob Austin, in photos.

The mother and son have a co-dependent relationship, Austin said.

"Right now hes going through puberty," she said. "I'm a little worried about that because now were dealing with facial hair and stuff like that, but I say were going to work together and figure it out... Some days, we struggle with regular tasks, like taking a bath and doing his homework, even communicating. I am his voice. I have to think for him and speak for him. Because if I dont do it, I don't think no one else will."

More on the Austins here.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

April and Jacob practice counting on their fingers on an Uber ride home after grocery shopping together. "We sort of need each other," April said. She is unable to drive due to her blindness and relies rely on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to get around. Her insurance carrier covers the costs of getting to and from doctors appointments, but not other transportation needs.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

April gives Jacob a haircut at their Belleville home. Because Jacob has autism, it can be hard for him to perform some basic tasks. April does what she can to help Jacob live the most comfortable life he can, including giving him haircuts herself. "It's always just me and him," said April.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

April receives a treatment to help ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2014. Since being diagnosed, she's endured partial blindness, bladder infections and pain throughout her body. She undergoes treatments to help ease her pain, although it comes with a cost. After the treatments, which she undergoes a few times a year, she's usually sick for days, making it difficult to care for Jacob. The treatments themselves last an entire day. She no longer brings Jacob with her to the appointments, instead having friends help care for him.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Jacob covers his face as he walks through a Walmart with April. "He has real bad social anxiety." The mother and son are often subject to strange looks when they venture out in public together. Due to Jacob's autism, he has a tendency to yell out or run around. During one trip to a public pool, a young girl asked Jacob if he was dumb, April said. Jacob stayed by his mom's side the rest of the time they were there. "He's such a sweet person," said April of her son. "When I go to Walmart, when I go to stores, I want to see people like Jacob included and working."

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Photos of April and Jacob lay out around their home. April is working on a photo album with images of the two giving each other kisses. "I often feel that him and I only exist to each other. I believe our ailments together make us even closer."

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Jacob sits on April's lap during an appointmentwith a child psychologist. Jacob sees a therapist in their home multiple times a week to help him learn to be more independent. Jacob has learned to cook a few meals for himself and will make himself breakfast some mornings before he goes to school. Jacob learning to be more independent has been a priority for April, who hopes that eventually, on her bad days, Jacob can care for himself and live a more fulfilling life.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Jacob looks up at April while grocery shopping with her. On days when her pain is bad, Jacob helps support his mom, carrying groceries for her, and giving her the physical support she needs to climbs stairs.

April fastens a brace on Jacob before he gets on the school bus in the morning. The brace is meant to prevent Jacob from running off the bus. Jacob has a history of attempting to run off. It proved to be a challenge for April, especially in recent years as she began to deal with the chronic pain. To keep Jacob from running out of the house, she had a special lock installed on their front door. She said they haven't had to use the lock for some time, as Jacob has gotten older and more responsible.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Jacob gives April a kiss as he gets home from school one afternoon. "I want to work for people in the community who can't speak for themselves," said April. She currently works as a long-term substitute teacher for nearby schools, while simultaneously working toward a bachelor's degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University. With her degree, she hopes to advocate for policies that would protect people like Jacob who can't speak for themselves. She also hopes to one day open an autism residential facility where teens and adolescents can live an independent, high-quality life with the right resources. "With training, with therapies, the right medications and education, our kids can really function and do well in society," April said.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

April watches over Jacob as he gets ready for bed. "The goal is for him to be independent. Autistic people live and thrive on their own all the time," said April. The pair often rely on each other. April does everything she can to be there for her son as both a mother and a friend, she said, providing him with the resources he needs to succeed.

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

Jacob plays on his tablet in his room by himself. "I don't have a lot of support. That's why I'm trying to push his independence, because I can't take him everywhere."

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

With one hand, April holds onto Jacob, and with the other, her cane as they take an Uber to the grocery store. April doesn't use her cane every day. In fact, she often tries to conceal the pain she is feeling. "(Life) doesn't stop, no matter how much pain you're in," April said.

April leads Jacob toward the bus before school in the early morning. Jacob attends BurgerSchoolfor Students with Autism in Garden City, about a 20-minute drive from their home in Belleville. "It takes a lot of work to get your child the help that they need," April said. When April began looking at programs in which to enroll Jacob to help him, she quickly learned how difficult it can be to get your child the help they need. "I had to really sit down and study and look into stuff. I just about know in every state what resources are available to Autistic children."

Jenna Kieser | jkieser@mlive.com

April often speaks of living in isolation and how challenging it has been for her, often feeling alone. She is planning on starting a support group for mothers with children with disabilities. "I just started reaching out," she said. She spends her time advocating for children with Autism and helping parents learn what resources are available to them. She also likes to collect donations for children in need to help provide them with more clothes or food.

April Austin is hoping to undergo a hematopoietic stem cell transplant and has raised more than $5,000 in an online

to help with the costs. She's seeking the treatment in Mexico, where she estimates the cost at about $54,000, whereas the procedure at Northwestern University in Chicago would come close to $100,000.

She plans to get the treatment at Clinica Ruiz in Puebla.

More:EMU student seeks stem cell treatment in Mexico for debilitating multiple sclerosis

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Mother and son, together, cope with autism and multiple sclerosis - MLive.com

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