The 26-pound 3-year-old twins sit in their carseats, unwilling to leave and unable to call for their mother who only hopes they will make it through another day without starving to death.
Cathy Quintane’s sons grew up progressing slower than other kids their age and at the age of 3, were not able to say things like “hi” or “mom.”
“I saw a lot of idiosyncrasies from day one in my boys,” Quintane said. “They weren’t typical kids.”
After numerous hospital visits over 32 months and multiple doctors telling her there was nothing wrong with her boys, Quintane was finally given an answer to her age old question. Her sons had autism, a disorder almost unheard of years ago.
“Once I was given the diagnosis of autism it was kind of a relief,” she said. “Up until that time it was like they didn’t fit in anywhere.”
With little known about autism at the time, she was told to pick up her boys and move to California for the best care for autistic kids. For a single mother taking care of two boys who had not slept through a night in four years, moving halfway around the country was out of the question.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was criticized when I took them out in public,” Quintane said. “If I had a dime for every time people told me ‘a good spanking will fix your kids’ I’d be a rich woman.”
The family stayed in North Dakota and Quintane tried to get the best treatment she could for her sons in Dickinson for a disorder practically unknown. Anthony attended full day kindergarten instead of half day because his case of autism was worse than Alex’s and he needed a more structured environment.
“They used to only eat chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. For four years, three times a day, I had to go to McDonald’s to get them to eat,” Quintane said. “I would honestly sit and cry sometimes and say ‘If only you would eat a cookie, only eat something, I know you won’t starve to death.’ ”
Anthony’s more severe case of autism resulted in him being put on medication when he was 7 years old so he could tolerate more than just fast food.
“Once he got put on those meds, he went up five sizes," Quintane said. “Obviously they’ve had to overcome other challenges.”
One of the biggest challenges for most people living with autism is fitting in.
“People just don’t understand me sometimes,” Alex said. “They sometimes make fun of me and I just try not to get down on myself.”
Special education teacher Danica Nelson has known the Quintane brothers for three years and works with Anthony during school. She has seen growth in Anthony socially and has learned about history and government through him.
“I admire Anthony’s courage and bravery because he comes to school everyday with a positive attitude knowing that no one will truly understand him,” Nelson said. “I think Anthony has got to be the bravest person in the world to go out everyday, being himself when no one truly understands parts of his world.”
More than the hurdles of trying to be accepted in school, learning is a challenge that has taken years to try and overcome. Anthony wears velcro tennis shoes because he is unable to perform tasks like tying his shoes and struggles with fine motor skills that come easier to others.
“I see the other kids who don’t have to walk around school with their aides,” Anthony said.
Despite the daily struggles in classes like biology and algebra and with writing, Anthony worked hard and recalls his best moment in high school as not having to take his semester final tests.
After high school, the brothers expect to take slightly different paths.
“I’m going to Jamestown College to get my secondary education degree,” Alex said.
He plans to help with the college football team like he did at Century.
“Alexander is going to go to a university and get his teaching degree,” Quintane said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he will do it.”
Anthony’s path is still unclear as he has been declared fully medically disabled by the government. Intellectually, he is fully capable of doing the work in areas other than writing but a successful future will require many supporters.
“Maybe I’ll go to college if I find something I want to go in to, or a life center for adults,” Anthony said.
Although they are identical twins, both deal with different stages of autism.
“Anthony has had a lot more challenges in life and has a different personality,” Quintane said. “He’s had to deal with his frustration in life, he’s easily annoyed with others and doesn’t have the desire to be as social as Alex.”
But Alex has been driven by the ambition to be accepted his entire life. He was the student manager for the Century football team and assists the basketball team as well.
“I think for Alex, he is the way he is because he has always had a desire to fit in,” Quintane said. “He sees that he is different from the other kids but has learned to live with his disability and seems ‘normal.’ ”
From 3-year-old twins who couldn't speak and hated being around people to social butterflies who found a place in high school, Anthony and Alex have done their best to overcome a disorder that affects such big aspects of their lives.
“I lived my hell when they were little,” Quintane said. “I have been very blessed at this stage of my life.”