This guest blog post is by Courtney Gondoli, a mother of two children on the autism spectrum from Brockport, N.Y. Courtney's son Joey was nonverbal when he was diagnosed as a toddler but now at age 4 he has started speaking. The video below shows Joey and his mom singing their favorite post-bathtime song.
When I was six months pregnant with our daughter, I became increasingly concerned about the development of our 17 month-old son, Joey. One sleepless night I typed “no words and not pointing at 17 months” into my computer and the results shocked me. There it was, the one word I had never dreamed I’d ever have to consider, “Autism.” I searched obsessively for the next several days for one article, one study, one video, or one blog post that didn’t describe our son, but I couldn’t find a single one. My husband and I were devastated but determined to do everything we could to help our son.
On September 8, 2011, Joey was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. As a parent, there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the day when a doctor tells you “I’m sorry, your son has Autism.” Even though it was difficult, I knew having a diagnosis would open the doors to help Joey receive the services he so desperately needed. And so it began, our journey with Autism.
We moved back to Rochester, New York, five weeks after our daughter, Samantha, was born. We wanted to be closer to our family and knew we were going to need their help. And by closer, I mean we moved in with my amazingly generous parents who offered for us all to live with them. Joey started Early Intervention and began receiving daily therapy sessions of speech, occupational therapy, and special instruction. Our days were filled with laughter, love, tantrums, and tears. I spent many, many, sleepless nights wondering if we would EVER hear him talk? Some days felt impossible, but we never gave up hope, and Joey never gave up trying.
To hear Joey talk today, it’s hard to believe he was almost completely non-verbal a year ago. On October 8th, 2013, our daughter, Samantha, was also diagnosed with Autism. We are one family raising two amazing children on the Autism Spectrum, and our journey has just begun. Joey turned four this past November, he loves his pre-school and therapists, as well as anything to do with space, Halloween and music. Since Joey was a baby I have sung Nat King Cole’s, “Smile” to him after his bath…turns out even though he wouldn't say a word, he was listening all this time. I hope this video of Joey singing along with me will encourage other parents to never, ever, give up hope and always remember to “smile.”