Meet Brandon W.
Brandon W., 8
A simple smile and eye contact can change a person’s whole day. I have taught my boys to never judge a book by its cover and love people for who they are.
Take one look at Brandon’s big smile and curly brown locks and you’ll have a difficult time holding back a smile of your own. This spunky 8-year-old, who is described by his mom, Kelli, as “having a glow that could light up a room,” loves to play video games, make arts and crafts, swim in the pool and sing along to some of his favorite songs, like Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” from the 2015 movie “Furious 7.”
Brandon has made great strides since he was diagnosed with autism in 2018 through the support of his mom and big brother, L.J., 23, and the consistency of vital intervention services, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and speech therapy. His inability to communicate his wants and needs verbally can still lead to frustration and the occasional meltdown, but thanks to his strong will and positive attitude, this first grader continues to achieve milestones that doctors and specialists said he would never reach.
“I’m so proud of his ability to keep going, no matter what roadblocks he faces. He always finds a way to get around them and absorbs what he learns. Even when he is having a rough day, he keeps a smile on his face. I am super proud to be his mom!”
Like most parents, Kelli hopes her son can “live his life to the fullest knowing that no matter what, he’s loved.” With a sturdy support system around him and access to the crucial services he’s been receiving since he was diagnosed, Brandon is well on his way to reaching his full potential - a thought that puts a HUGE smile on all of our faces here at Autism Speaks!
Learn more about Brandon through the words of his mom, Kelli, in this Spectrum Spotlight Q&A:
In your experience with Brandon, how important is early diagnosis and intervention services?
Extremely important! I have learned skills and techniques to help Brandon with daily activities that I would have never even known existed.
Did you realize something was different about Brandon before his diagnosis? If so, please share some of your experiences and how the diagnosis came about.
Yes, I did. As a mom, you can almost always tell when something is not quite right with your child. Brandon was not really making eye contact or talking like he should have been around age 2. I started to notice that he was very particular about little things. He would group things in order by shapes, colors and sizes - things most people wouldn’t even think about. He didn’t care much for being cuddled or even playing with toys the correct way.
I spoke to his pediatrician and together we decided to get Brandon tested for autism. We went to the Haymount Institute for Psychological Services in Fayetteville, NC to seek out answers. It was in this meeting that I was able to see just how much my son was lacking in areas compared to other kids his age. They had him play with cars and Play-Doh, color with crayons and do a few other things, and it was obvious that he was not doing these things in a typical way.
What were your initial thoughts when you first received Brandon’s diagnosis?
I was both relieved and scared! How was I going to handle this? Am I strong enough? Patient enough? Will I be able to provide him with the resources he needs to help him? I have spent many sleepless nights in tears wondering if I am doing enough, but I was ready to start the journey of giving Brandon the best care I possibly could! He was diagnosed with autism, echolalia and elopement at the age of 4.
Tell us about some of the struggles he has faced/faces as a result of his autism.
He can get frustrated at times when he is trying to tell us something and we do not understand. He has difficulties with basic daily life skills but continues to work on them each day. He also can have sensory overload at times. Sometimes when this happens, he screams and other times he can have a full-fledged meltdown that can last a few hours.
You mentioned Brandon is non-verbal. How has he learned to communicate and how has that improved through the years?
He had ABA therapy as well as speech therapy for four hours a day for quite some time before the pandemic. This is where we began to see Brandon open up and show his true self. He became confident and you could see his whole attitude change. Unfortunately, COVID hit and we had to stop the in-home visits and therapy altogether for safety reasons. This is where my older son, LJ, became a HUGE help in pushing Brandon to be the best he could be. They would spend hours together doing flash cards and math problems, daily life skills and reading books. We downloaded ABCmouse.com, and I hate to sound like a commercial, but Brandon took off from there. He can read but has issues comprehending things and can count to 100 and do simple math problems.
What are some of Brandon’s biggest strengths?
He is a genius at electronics - he can use my phone better than I can! He remembers numbers very well and even remembered my credit card number to order something off Amazon. He’s the first to help with cleaning and loves to say his prayers. He has a daily routine that we have learned to stick by.
What advice would you give to other parents who have a child/children on the spectrum?
Advocate! Advocate! Advocate! It is okay to be scared. It is okay to cry. It is okay to have all the fears in the world. It is totally normal. You are your child’s voice. You will have hard days when you will ask yourself, “Can I really do this?” The answer is …YES YOU CAN!! God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. The moment your child does something out of the normal (plays with a toy the right way, says a word or even makes eye contact), you will realize YOU helped your child find their confidence by providing them with the help they need and a lot of love.
Please describe some of the therapies and services that Brandon receives. How have those services positively impacted his life?
ABA and speech therapy. He also has a neurologist, as well as his primary care doctor and a dentist. All these providers, along with the help of his brother, have helped Brandon tremendously advance in life.
What is your connection to Autism Speaks and how have they provided support to you and your family?
I started following the organization on Facebook a while ago. They became my “go to” when Brandon was having meltdowns or issues that I was not familiar with. To see all the support systems in place, the helpful links, toolkits and just to see that there are other families going through similar things, made me fall in love with the organization.
What are five words that best describe Brandon?
Courageous. Resilient. Determined. Extraordinary. Magnificent
November 13, 2021 is World Kindness Day. Why is kindness important to you and what does the day mean to you and your family?
As a mother of a child on the spectrum, it has helped me become more understanding and compassionate to people and different situations they may face. A simple smile and eye contact can change a person’s whole day. I have taught my boys to never judge a book by its cover and love people for who they are.