Wednesday, April 2, 2014

CNN iReport for Autism Awareness Day 2014: Reflection and Hope

One of the things I like the least is talking in front of others, let alone record myself speaking in front of others (and I really dislike the frozen shot of my crazy face). But his story needs to be told.

Today, I celebrate all the families who work tirelessly everyday to make their children's lives better. I also celebrate all of the therapists who work tirelessly to teach children the skills they need to adapt to the crazy world around them. But most of all, I celebrate my sweet boy, who challenged me in a way I never imagined and helped ignite the fire in me to help others. I love you, Joey!

Here is the link:

My son hit all his physical milestones at the suggested age but he was quiet. Painfully quiet. At 18 months old, he was able to say less than 20 words. By 2 years old, his words were gone.

We started speech therapy right around his 2nd birthday and implemented a Picture Exchange Communication System. Around 2 1/2, he started to imitate us! Shortly after, I participated in a Jump Start program through a Phoenix-based organization and I learned how to work with my son by implementing a home program based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

My son continued to be a quiet child who played by himself, but his language slowly emerged. He would surprise us each day with a new word. Once, at pet store, he looked at a puppy and said "poop." You couldn't imagine how happy we were to hear that word. Spontaneous and functional - what we always hoped for! I started recording all of the things he said back then. Seven years later, I still write down his funny quotes and thoughts about life.

By the age of 5, in his final months of preschool, Joey was mainstreamed into a general education classroom. Without early intervention, ABA, and determination, this never could have happened.

We have continued to work on my son's communication and social skills. He plays team sports (soccer and flag football) and does really well at school. His favorite subjects are math and science. He has a wide variety of interests and he shares those interests with his friends from school. He gets invited to birthday parties and has weekly play dates. These are things I used to only dream of, as I feared my son may never speak just 7 years ago.

The best advice I can give is for parents to find professionals that will work with their child and that will also train the parents on how to carry out the different interventions long after the therapists leave. Through the journey with my son, I now help parents as a Behavior Analyst, and spend most of my days training parents. I'm passionate about it because if I hadn't received parent training, I fear my son would not have come as far as he has.

If you are the parent of a newly diagnosed child, find support in your area. The support will help you grieve and heal, while hopefully providing you information and referrals to who will help your child achieve their goals.

Good luck. And never give up hope!

Follow Joey's story at