New year means new hope for two families in autism community
January 8, 2021
Meet Laila Rose, 7
Hi, I’m Lilly, and I’m proud to introduce the world to my daughter, Laila Rose, a little girl who seems to inspire everyone she meets! When you hear her explain her thoughts about the world you instantly fall in love with the beautiful girl inside and out. She is spunky, energetic, inquisitive, funny and very loving.
Laila was nonverbal until she was three years old. Thanks to her autism diagnosis, my daughter was able to receive the early intervention, special education services and endless resources from Autism Speaks, to get on track to reaching her full potential. We no longer worry about how she will fit in with the world, but instead we’re excited about how she will change it!
Although 2020 was difficult for us – just as it was for seemingly everyone – we are hoping the new year will bring even more opportunities for Laila to grow by leaps and bounds. I give thanks that we survived a year of challenges, fear and uncertainty and that we have all come out with our health and a stronger sense of what matters in life. Looking forward to our new year, I want to ensure that my family, including Laila, reach their full potential in 2021.
Be mindful to celebrate the small stuff
When making goals for the future as an autism family, it is important to always look back and track the progress our children have made. As many parents in the autism community know, any progress should be celebrated and rejoiced. My daughter went from being a nonverbal little girl to a chatty social butterfly in her online classroom. There are times when she keeps me up late at night asking me a million questions about the world around her, I have to remind myself: “this is all you’ve ever prayed for and wanted.” Helping my daughter speak took the hard work and patience of many people, including her early intervention teachers. The first time I heard the word, “Mom,” come out of her mouth, tears of joy were shed by my entire family and we celebrated with the greatest joy I have ever felt.
Her applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists have worked diligently with her, teaching her how to greet and say goodbye. Giving her words for her emotions and working with her to learn to express herself. Today, my daughter goes to a general education classroom where she receives amazing help by her dedicated teachers, special education teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapist. This has helped catapult her social skills, reading, writing, speech and sensory skills. Although she will most likely be in an online format for the rest of the school year due to the pandemic, my goal for her is to be as comfortable with this setting.
My goals as an autism parent
My personal goal for 2021 is to keep reading and learning. I have come a long way from the day I opened up my laptop and took the M-CHAT screening on the Autism Speaks website. That is where I first learned that my daughter was at risk for autism, given phone numbers to early intervention services in my state and learned for the first time what a developmental pediatrician was. I plan on finishing my bachelor’s degree in psychology this year and am looking forward to starting my master’s degree program in applied behavior analysis, in honor of my heroes: the dedicated people who help my daughter take hold of her emotions, teach her social skills and teach her to be flexible.
Meet Dennis, 4
My name is Miranda, and I’d like to introduce the Autism Speaks community to my son, Dennis. He was diagnosed with autism at 17 months old. In a way, the diagnosis came as a relief for our family because my husband and I noticed that he was developing differently from other children and seemed to be disconnected. As a parent with a newly diagnosed child, it can be very overwhelming, but my best piece of advice would be to trust your parental instincts.
After his diagnosis, we immediately enrolled Dennis in full-time early intervention services. This included including pre-school, applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech and occupational therapies. Today, Dennis, 4, still has to work hard for many things that come easily to other children. Starting Dennis on such a busy schedule at such a young age felt scary, but it felt overwhelmingly hopeful and the right thing to do for his future. The entire process was a steep learning curve and the first few years of his diagnosis we spent countless hours learning how we could implement therapy techniques for Dennis at home, and during our regular routines, so that we could help his progress.
Be supportive and nurture their strengths
Our family continues to support, love and embrace Dennis for everything that he is and everything we know he can become. We are so proud of the strides he makes every day. He is kind, loving, funny and draws you in with his big, brown eyes and beautiful smile. He was mostly non-verbal until he turned three but has come so far. The most valuable lesson we have learned has been to take interest in his interests. Dennis loves numbers so much and incorporating them into our daily routines has been the key to connecting with him and getting him interested in new things.
Face challenges head on and celebrate every milestone
Dennis’s biggest struggle is communication. As parents who were unfamiliar with autism, we didn’t understand that it was so much more complex for Dennis than just not speaking verbal language. Our son needed to learn how to communicate, and to do that he first needed to be motivated to want to communicate. Learning how to point, make eye contact, use sign language and use an augmented communication device have all been steps in his communication journey. We work with Dennis all the time to encourage him to use verbal language and we are so proud of the progress he has made.
Recently, Dennis was diagnosed with apraxia of speech, which impacts his ability to make speech sounds. Apraxia brings further challenges but hearing his voice say “mama” and “dada” is incredible. Despite his struggles with speech, he is super intelligent and has had a gift for numbers, counting, math, puzzles and spelling at a very early age.
With the new year upon us, we hope to see Dennis grow even more in many ways. We know that he will do something great with his incredible mind, and we cannot wait to watch his future unfold. We hope that Dennis’s story can bring further awareness and acceptance to autism and, as parents, we continue to speak to our children about diversity, inclusion and kindness.