In many ways, Crystal Hinnen is just like any other average mom, battling typical problems with her kids. She is often up with her son in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, after only several hours of sleep. She’s also working with him on potty training, a difficult task all moms can relate to. But here’s the thing. Her son Dylan isn’t a toddler, as you might expect. He’s 12. And he has autism.
Fortunately, autism is now a familiar term, thanks to awareness campaigns and educational efforts. But autism isn’t a buzzword, or a celebrity cause, or just another charity 5k. Autism is real. And families who care for a loved one with autism will tell you it affects everything. Everything.
Crystal Hinnen, preschool teacher, wife to Travis and mom to Chloe (13) and Dylan (12), loves being a mother. “(My favorite things are) hearing the giggles down the hall and watching them grow,” she said. “Chloe is turning into a loving helpful good-deciding fun young lady. I also enjoy seeing the things that Dylan has learned, that we never thought he would be able to do. Like ride a bike, or potty train.” She adds, “He’s still working on potty training, but he’s gotten so much better.”
If it sounds like Crystal is a positive person, she most certainly is. Her positive outlook helped her not only survive, but thrive, while doing double duty as a single parent. “I put myself through college during all of this. I would do my homework when the kids went to bed. They were and are and always will be my life! I had some things to prove. And I did! But it’s all about your attitude too. I enjoy my life, I know that it had its rough parts, but I know that I was meant to be here. Not many people could handle my situation.”
I know Crystal is definitely right about that. Every time I see her, she’s happy. And she’s so proud of her kids. Both of them. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like when she first heard Dylan’s diagnosis, but knowing Crystal, she didn’t let it get her down for too long. Before Dylan was diagnosed at one and a half, Crystal thought he might be deaf. When we did the hearing test, the woman administering the exam was shocked that Dylan was able to hear. He did need tubes, but he could hear. That was a start. They were then sent to a neurologist, who practically took one look at Dylan and knew. Although Crystal’s initial reaction was denial, “There’s nothing wrong with my child, although I knew there was,” but she soon went to work to secure all possible resources for Dylan.
“Futures Unlimited came to the rescue with their in-home services for children under three. They came to the house and worked with him. He then went to ECD (early childhood with disablilities) classroom for preschool. He has been going to school in Goddard since kindergarten and will be in middle school this year.”
Middle school. This period is tough for any child, let alone those with autism. But then again, nearly every stage of Dylan’s life has been difficult, due in part to a lack of resources for playtime. He’s also non-verbal, meaning he only makes sounds to indicate his needs, or will bring the item in question to his caregivers. Crystal’s mom Cheryl decided to take action. Her initial idea was to make a camp where families with children with disabilities could go and just relax. Where people didn’t look at you funny because your child was making noises. But, we decided that our first project should be smaller.”
Thus began the non-profit known as Dilly’s Place, an effort to build a boundless playground in Conway Springs, Kansas, where children of all abilities can play together. “We knew how difficult is was to take Dylan anywhere. Dylan was such a runner when he was little, that we would take him to a neighboring community because their park had a fence. Chloe came up with the name. She is the best big sister EVER!”
Dilly’s Place is off to a phenomenal start, thanks to generous donors, and a supportive community. Crystal can’t express enough her gratitude for her hometown, where she says, “We live in a great community. And they pretty much all know Dylan, so nobody says awful things. I love Conway Springs! People look out for Dylan and will call if he has jumped the fence or is running around in the nude.” She quips, “It’s never boring around here!” She also credits her husband Travis (they were married last year), with being key to her success. “I have a GREAT husband, and he is the BEST dad ever!”
I hope for Dylan’s sake, and Crystal’s sake, and our entire community’s sake, that Dilly’s Place is a success. After all, it’s not just children with disabilities who will benefit, but all children. Children like mine. This incredible mother has taken a life-altering diagnosis, and has used it to benefit others. That’s truly momazing.
If you’ve been touched by this story, and would like to make a donation to Dilly’s Place, please reach out in one of the following ways:
– Dilly’s Place , PO. Box 633, Conway Springs, KS 67031
– Dilly’s Place Facebook Page
– Call Cheryl at 620.456.2123 or Crystal at 316.648.7763