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Why I Walk: For parents who just received an autism diagnosis

This guest post is by Elizabeth “Liz” Rice-Attanasio who is a CPA by day and a single mom by night. Liz is an active volunteer and advocate for autism. She is also walks for the Autism Speaks Staten Island Walk for Team Little Tree. This is her 3rd year as a chair of the Staten Island Community Leadership Committee for Autism Speaks. You can help Liz and her team reach their fundraising goal here.

My son Louis “Little Tree” had met every milestone up to the age of 1 year old. He crawled, walked, babbled, made eye contact, mimicked and even said a handful of words up to that point. Suddenly it all just stopped. He was silent, stopped looking me in the eye and stopped calling me mommy. My sister, a Speech & Language Pathologist, recommended an evaluation by a developmental pediatrician. There I was sitting in the office contemplating what my friends and family had said to me leading up to the appointment… “It’s just a speech delay” “All boys talk later than girls” “No, not your son, he’s so smart”. I sat there hoping I was just a crazy overprotective mom and that I would be sent home. Then the evaluation came and I could see that he wasn’t doing well, in fact he was doing terribly. At the conclusion, the doctor uttered the diagnosis that would change my life forever, autism.

After the shock and devastation wore off, I jumped into action and said, ok autism, well now what? Six years later, my 7 year old son is doing amazing and is fully verbal. He is now in an ABA (“Applied Behavioral Analysis”) classroom and receives additional private speech lessons. He has also been enrolled in various extra-curricular activities to promote his socialization with peers over the years, like gymnastics and T-ball. He has moderate OCD (“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”) and becomes immersed in a certain activity or toy or TV show; he has intermittent episodes of echolalia where his language is incomprehensible; he is uncomfortable in certain social settings and has some negative behaviors (particularly when he is upset). Most of his difficulties in school come when he can’t express his emotions properly verbally and does so physically. Still despite his struggles, as a result of early intervention, fighting for the best IEP’s (“Individualized Education Programs”) and additional private services, my son is one of the lucky ones.

Although it was certainly my son Louis who set me on this yellow brick road of autism. He’s not the only reason why I walk. I walk for all of the other moms who have to hear the word autism for the first time and are scared and have nowhere to turn. I walk for the sad child struggling socially in the schoolyard because of a lack of autism awareness by their peers. I walk for every family affected by autism, so that no matter what their social or economic standing is, they will have the same access to services that Louis was blessed to have. I walk for every teacher, to have the resources to provide the individualized education programs that are needed by students with autism. I walk so that I am at the forefront of the political changes that will give my son the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that all Americans deserve, especially the disabled. I walk so that my son’s voice is heard and so his experiences and struggles are shared and not forgotten, and so they are learned from by all of us.

Why do you walk? Tell us at iwalkfor@gmail.com and you could be featured on our website! Want to walk with us? Look to see if there is a walk in your area at www.autismspeakswalk.org.

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.