Meet Nico L.
Nico L., 2
I have often heard Mexican parents say, “Nico is not autistic. He’s just a boy and boys talk later than girls.”
Hi, I'm Raquel, and I want to introduce you to my youngest child, Nico, during this special time in which we recognize Hispanic Heritage Month. Being of Mexican descent, I want to make sure that Nico, who was recently diagnosed with autism, is given every opportunity that is available to him despite his diagnosis. I want him to know that I will always be his number one supporter. I will always stick up for him and his rights. I believe it is important to advocate for my son because I am not only his mom, but his coach and his cheerleader through life. If I don’t advocate for him, who will?
Being a first generation Mexican American, Hispanic Heritage Month highlights the culture and values that have been passed down to us. It is our month to celebrate all the sacrifices that our family and past ancestors had to endure to get us to where we are. It is also a time to be proud and recognize our achievements and contributions.
Thankfully, I have not seen discrepancies in the availability of autism services to those in the Hispanic community, but what I have seen is a lack of early diagnosis. I think that in our culture, sometimes we are in denial or think that nothing is wrong with our child. I have often heard Mexican parents say, “Nico is not autistic. He’s just a boy and boys talk later than girls.” There is also a lack of awareness and education for the Hispanic community, and this makes it challenging when trying to ensure your autistic child has access to the services and resources they need.
This is one area where I look to Autism Speaks to provide even more outreach in Spanish and help raise more awareness via social media and other outlets that allow families to feel like they are not alone.
Learn more about Nico in this Q&A with his mom, Raquel:
In your experience, how important are early intervention services?
In our experience, early intervention services have been extraordinarily important both for Nico and for our family. Early intervention has allowed Nico to build relationships with his therapists and also with his family. It has allowed him to have new experiences and it has given him access to learning tools that are helping him communicate. Early intervention has given us a platform and a plan to work towards his goals. Most importantly, it has given us a diagnosis and the support to help Nico grow and thrive in this new adventure for all of us.
Please describe some of the therapies and services that Nico receives. How have those services positively impacted his life?
Nico currently receives speech therapy and is soon to start Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. Speech has impacted his learning and his eagerness to communicate with others. He loves to hear his speech therapist sing to him and he particularly enjoys counting with her. Nico went from extreme fear of strangers to his speech therapist being one of his best friends. We are excited to start ABA therapy, as I know that he will make great gains and hopefully start speaking soon!
Did you realize something was different about Nico before his diagnosis?
I recognized that something was unique about Nico a few days after we arrived from the hospital. As a newborn, he did not like to be held in our arms. He preferred to be put down and left alone. It was the opposite for us, he would cry in our arms and soothe himself on his own. Nico would also have these very scary crying spells. As he grew, I started to notice more things that caught my attention. Nico loved to watch simple learning songs at a very young age. He was fascinated with television. Nico also did not respond to his name or make eye contact with me. Being that Nico is my sixth child, this was something that I had not experienced, and I knew something was different.
It was during Nico’s 6-month checkup that I shared my concerns with his pediatrician. She informed me that Nico was very young to be diagnosed but encouraged me to keep a close eye on his behaviors and document my concerns. As Nico progressed, so did his symptoms. He continued to not respond to his name, made no eye contact, did not like physical touch like hugs and kisses, did not engage in play with his twin sister, was very fearful of large noises and crowds and started stimming more frequently. As soon as Nico turned 2, he was ready to be evaluated and although my motherly instinct already knew that the diagnosis would come back as ASD, it was still an overwhelming thought for our family.
What were your initial thoughts when you first received your son’s diagnosis?
My initial thought after his diagnosis was sadness. I was very depressed and sad because I was in shock that my baby was not “normal”. I was scared about what was to come, how his life would be, and I also felt guilty. I was mad because it was not fair! Especially because he is a twin, so how is it that his twin sister is “normal” and he has ASD? After a few days and a few conversations with my husband and Nico’s siblings, I quickly recognized that Nico is normal, and he is a happy baby and absolutely nothing is wrong! We made a family pact to all work together and educate ourselves on autism. We know that Nico will always need us and we are here to help and support him in any way we can. Nico’s older brothers have been so sweet and have really matured as they now have a brother who needs them! They always say Nico is going to be the coolest autistic kid at school because they are going to make sure he has all the latest fashion, the coolest shoes and is in all the sports. This makes my heart happy for Nico!
Tell us about some of the struggles he has faced/faces as a result of his autism.
Nico’s biggest challenge at this moment is communication. He is nonverbal and is having a difficult time communicating his needs. He gets extremely frustrated and will start to have meltdowns because we cannot understand what it is he needs. His speech therapist is currently working on some strategies, like sign language to help him.
How have things improved since receiving services?
Things have improved since receiving services because our family is getting the education we need to help Nico at home. We are at the beginning of our journey and I cannot wait to see where Nico goes as he starts ABA therapy.
What are some of Nico’s biggest strengths?
Nico’s biggest strengths are his happiness and his love for counting. He is a very happy boy and is always cheerful and in a good mood. He loves to watch kids play and is fascinated with counting. He can count to five with his hands. He also is very good at sticking to his routine and sleep schedule. I consider this a huge strength!
What advice would you give to other parents who have a child/children on the spectrum?
Focus on the positive, stay consistent and provide your child with lots of experiences. It is very easy to feel discouraged or feel down because you see autism as some kind of “disease”, but you must put a stop to that. There is so much light and joy that an autistic child can bring to you and your family. They view things differently than us and there's nothing wrong with that, we just need to embrace it and foster their growth. Consistency is key! It is important that you follow through with all your therapy and behavior services. Progress only comes with practice and that is why services should always be put first—because that is what is going to provide new learning skills and also target behaviors. Lastly, find new things that you can explore together as a family. We love to provide Nico with new experiences. So far, he has gone to parks, Disneyland, the county fair, library, etc.
Editor’s Note: Autism Speaks defines autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges associated with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. It is not a disease. Learn more about autism signs and symptoms.
What is your connection to Autism Speaks and how have we provided support to you and your family?
I found Autism Speaks when I was looking for support groups on social media. When I found your organization, I must have spent hours reading all the stories of different people from all different phases of life. It provided reassurance for me that Nico is going to be just fine.
What are your hopes for Nico’s future?
I just want Nico to be happy! I hope that Nico is a functioning adult with a job, friends and enjoys doing things that bring him joy.
What are five words that best describe Nico?
Cute, Cheerful, Smart, Kind and Unique.