My son went from nonverbal to starring in the school play

By Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty

This is a post by Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, mother to two sons on the autism spectrum. View Kim's blog, Autism Mommy-Therapist.

Zachary wearing a Star Wars shirt and standing in front of a school project with a smile

Eleven years ago this month my beautiful boy Zachary was born, my second son, little brother to his autistic sibling. He was the easiest baby, reveling in sharing his delight with the world, walking early, babbling incessantly. He was nothing but joy.

Then, in his eighteenth month he became devoid of speech. He lost a year’s worth of development when evaluated by Early Intervention, and we knew that once again, for this family, autism had come to call.

We put Zachary on the gluten-free/casein-free diet with no expectations, immersed him in therapy, interacted with him almost every waking moment. Slowly, over time, he progressed. Then, the babbling returned, those elusive consonants making a determined comeback. He regained his skills, working diligently with his therapists, then his teachers in school.

It took years to where he was age-appropriate in development, almost a decade before he would shed his IEP, then his 504.

For the last two years he’s been in a non-inclusion classroom, and has lost his special education classification. He does brilliantly in school, has friends within the walls of his classroom and without. He has a lead role in the school play (break a leg!), participates in activities both in school and out. He asks questions about the world incessantly (after seeing him nonverbal a decade ago it never gets old), is passionate about helping little kids, and loves his life.

Zachary making a snow angel

And yes, he is still autistic.

I am a former elementary education teacher, was in the trenches for a dozen years. I had the good fortune to be able to teach a number of autistic children over the years, and it shaped the way I look at autism. The majority of the students in my care were at peace with who they were, were happy in their own way. This experience was critical in the way I approached both of my children’s autisms. Particularly for Zachary, who did not have as many challenges as his brother, I felt he had the chance to achieve independence.

Ten years later we have reached that goal. He is engaged in the world, productive, happy, safe. He loves his life.

He is proud of being autistic.

And I am so incredibly proud of him, and grateful to be his mom.

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