For one Chatsworth resident, despite holding a job that she’s passionate about, being a wife and mother of two, surviving cancer, and bringing awareness as a coordinator of Autism Speaks, she somehow still manages to find time to make it all about M.E.
That's Megan Eisenberg (M.E.), now nine-years-old, who has become a talented artist challenged by autism.
Pam Eisenberg, 47, was excited to be a first-time director of Saturday's 9th annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Pasadena, with 24,000 volunteers walking. Early donations totaled $1.4 million.
For Eisenberg and her family, being a part of the walk was personal. Following the celebration of Eisenberg’s 40th birthday, she learned that her daughter Megan had autism.
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism advocacy organization and the walk hosted 130 various resource groups. All money raised supports autism research and advocacy.
"Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, a group of illnesses that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize or form relationships with others as well as the ability to communicate and to use imagination (including fantasy play)," according to WebMD. "Children with autism and related disorders often are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them.
"In addition to problems with social interaction, imagination, and communication, children with autism also have a limited range of interests," the site advises.
“Our very first walk was called All About M.E., being Megan Eisenberg,” said Pam Eisenberg. “So that’s like the big thing right now ... Everything’s all about M.E., which it is, 'cause it’s about Megan Eisenberg.”
Some form of autism affects one out of every 110 children. This includes highly functioning autism, ADHD, and asperger syndrome.
Eisenberg is seeking legislative autism reform, and hoped to raise money at the walk to help support bill AB171 in California. It was the emphasis of Saturday’s event, according to Eisenberg.
“California is one of the hardest to get passed in 25 states so that families don’t have to choose between getting a second car, and insurance for their child,” said Eisenberg.
Megan also has ADHD and an anxiety disorder.
When she heard the diagnosis, Eisenberg was literally stunned.
After after 20 minutes into a three-hour assessment of Megan with a specialist at Kaiser-Permanente, the doctor confirmed that their daughter had a “classic case of autism.”
“Whatever took her away, the autism that took her away, all that was left was the body, and her mind was completely gone,” said Eisenberg. “That was frightening, that was not the person that I had been raising for the first 18 months.”
At almost 22 months Megan lost everything: her language vanished, she had stopped speaking and everything just went away, according to Eisenberg.
“She was like a shell of a person, and I couldn’t figure it out,” said Eisenberg. “We lost her, and I couldn’t get her back and that really scared me.”
Megan’s autism-related tantrums and poor behavior continued. It was during this period when she started drawing. Megan had found art. And it became her prime window into the world.
Eisenberg quit her job at the time and for 30 hours out of every week, the Eisenbergs had people providing services for Megan coming in and out of their home.
“It was really difficult those first two years,” said Eisenberg. “We kinda just held on to each other, you want to keep your marriage together. But that’s (your child) all you think about, morning, noon and night.”
The average divorce rate among other families is 50 percent. The average divorce rate among families including an autistic child is 86 percent, according to Eisenberg.
“Next year will be 20 years that we’ll be married,” said Eisenberg of her husband, Adam, 45. “There is no person I would rather carry this burden with than him. “
A few years later tragedy struck the Eisenberg family a second time. Eisenberg was diagnosed with cancer. Megan was five-years-old at the time.
“I kept thinking, how is my husband going to do this alone?” said Eisenberg. But she beat that challenge and will be four years cancer free in November.
For Eisenberg, she realized that unlike her daughter, she was given a second chance and it jump-started her involvement and passion for Autism Speaks.
She originally began volunteering for the organization to provide Megan with the voice that her child was unable to use. And within three weeks of her cancer recovery, Autism Speaks Executive Director Phillip Hain, who is now her boss and friend, asked Eisenberg to come work with the organization.
It seemed like perfect timing and the obvious next step.
Eisenberg has been the Grand Club Chair for two years, so when the opportunity came and the former walk director resigned, she just knew what to do.
“This was my job, this was it, and I never looked back on it,” said Eisenberg. “And here I am ... it’s mind blowing.”
Megan joined her mom in Pasadena Saturday.
“She [Megan] knows that she has autism and she wants to raise this money for other kids. She doesn’t want them to go through what she went through,” said Eisenberg who knows that her daughter is proud of her. “She doesn’t want kids to feel bad about themselves.”
Autistic children can do anything, and will do, and be anything that other children will, according to Eisenberg.
“They are going to run this country, they are going to be our hope, we have to take care of them we have no choice -- it’s one out of 110 kids,” Eisenberg said.