Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Why I walk: for my grandson Joey's million dollar smile

This blog post was written by Pauline McCartney, a grandmother to a grandson with autism. Why do you walk? Tell us at and we might feature it on our site!

First, let me introduce you briefly to my grandson, Robert ‘’Smiling Joey” Martell who was diagnosed with autism in 2013. As my daughter, Cara McCartney-Martell, will tell you, Joey practically ran out of her stomach on October 29, 2010. As he grew from a pleasant infant to a rambunctious toddler, we all began to notice unusual behaviors that we shrugged off at first: he did NOT want to be cuddled, could NOT sit still, always ran away from crowds (as he hardly walked – he ran from 10 months on), loud noises bothered him, large crowds appeared to scare him, engaged in bizarre repetitive behaviors, and he spoke his own language – mostly baby talk – that only he can understand. Cara navigated a pretty complex health care system to learn that her fears were confirmed that her son had autism.

Of course, our family had quite a learning curve trying to understand autism. We confess that most of our preconceived notions were derived from Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. After reading extensively and being involved with Joey, we discovered that despite the challenges Joey can and will lead a normal, productive life. 

At age 4, Joey still struggles with new surroundings, has very limited vocabulary, often runs off, has tantrums in crowds, and struggles with socializing with children his own age. However, while he has challenges, his occupational therapist says he has an incredible memory and believes he is progressing very well in therapy and developmental pre-school. She believes with continued therapy that he will overcome his language deficit and the challenges that accompany a child living with autism. On his last visit to Rhode Island in November of 2014, he had begun to say “juice”; “please”; and even said, “I love you”, which couldn’t have made his family any happier.  

One of my biggest regrets regarding Joey is geography. My daughter, Cara, lives in Tacoma Washington. However, I (his grandmother) manage to spend extensive and quality time with Joey. Between Cara and I we go back and forth about six times a year.  He lights up my world when I see him and he recognizes me immediately and wants me to engage in “our activities” such as taking my ipad, going outside to the park, playing hide and seek, taking a bath, and the end of the day story time, where he grabs my arm while he goes to sleep. 

Joey has so many positives in his life. He has a “million dollar” smile that is always on his face, a great sense of humor, natural intelligence that is easily recognized by both therapists and teachers. He is beginning to develop the ability to interact with his peers in school. His coordination cannot be surpassed. As his grandfather always comments, “I hope I live long enough to see him play in the NFL.”

Our family has learned some valuable lessons about patience, overcoming obstacles, and embracing the uniqueness of every individual. I also learned how fortunate my Joey is to be surrounded by loving, caring, involved parents, siblings, and extended family.

Why do you walk? Tell us at Look to see if there is a walk in your area at!


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.