Meet Tania and Valeria G.
Tania G., 30, and Valeria G., 3
To be completely honest, my diagnosis was a relief and I viewed it as the missing piece to my life. I finally understand who I am, and I feel proud about it.
Hi, I’m Tania and I have autism. I’ve been described as anti-social, an introvert, weird, complicated, lonely, a picky eater, spoiled, rude, a narcissist and a perfectionist. There are plenty of other ways I’ve been described throughout my life, but autistic was never one of them until recently.
I was born in Mexico in the 90's, so there wasn’t much information available about autism at the time. Therefore, I was simply viewed as a problematic kid and felt like an outsider for most of my life. It wasn’t until last year, at the age of 29, that I found out that I was autistic. On the same day, my 3-year-old daughter, Valeria, was also diagnosed.
To be completely honest, my diagnosis was a relief and I viewed it as the missing piece to my life. I finally understand who I am, and I feel proud about it. I’m currently in my final year of nursing school and working hard to advocate for my daughter, myself and everyone else who ever felt like they needed a shoulder to lean on. I want to make a positive impact in the autism community and inspire others.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I have a lot to be thankful for! Valeria has come so far since her diagnosis thanks to therapy and intervention services – things I wish I had access to as a child. She has applied behavior analysis (ABA), occupational, speech and music therapies, all of which have worked wonders for her! Even though she can’t communicate in the conventional way, she’s learned to do so in her own way. She’s so expressive and curious, always in tune with how I am feeling. Even though she is just 3 years old, she has taught me so much and I am so proud to be her mom.
Learn more about Tania and Valeria in this Q&A:
How have intervention services proved beneficial for your daughter since her diagnosis?
They have helped my daughter so much with language, social interaction, imitation, letter sound, routines and transitions. It’s also helped us to cut down the number of meltdowns and the sensory overloads she’s experienced in the past.
How would your life have been different if you had access to early intervention services like ABA, speech and occupational therapies?
My life would have been very different. If I had the opportunity to receive a diagnosis and proper intervention, A LOT would have been different in my life. Poor socialization skills, incapacity to show my emotions properly, all the meltdowns, resistance to share my toys, refusal to go to school, poor coordination, my obsession with certain objects. I would have had a treatment plan to help with these things. I might have also been able to avoid all of the social tags, punishments and nicknames that caused emotional overload and distress.
What makes you most proud of your daughter, Valeria?
She makes me proud every day. Valeria’s lack of speech has given her the ability to communicate in other ways. Her eyes, her gestures, her hands, her posture—they all tell the story of how she’s feeling. Her eyes are deep, her hands are strong, her gestures are very visible, her posture illustrates a lot of her mood and intentions. She might demonstrate several emotions at once, but that’s what makes her so honest and pure. Valeria has a unique intuition and she feels people's vibes. I never encourage her to suppress who she is because that’s what makes her special. Thanks to Valeria, I was able to find out who I am. She’s quickly become my mentor and teaches me life lessons every day.
What advice would you give to other people on the spectrum or with autistic family members as they prepare for the holiday season?
Patience is key when exposing adults or children on the spectrum to unpredictable environments. During the holidays, I’d suggest trying to coordinate as much as you can to avoid surprises. Try to communicate things clearly and share the daily plans down to the hour so that everyone is aware of what’s happening.
Just because someone is non-verbal, it doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. We need to make sure everyone is being “heard” when it’s time to make decisions. I talk to my daughter all the time during the day to make her aware of where we are and what we are doing. It may sound like a lot but things get easier with time. If you know other families with an autistic family member, exchange tips and/or techniques. You never know what you might learn from people who do things differently.
Do you have holiday traditions that have been modified to better fit the needs of you and your daughter?
Well, I haven't been very social my entire life, so we usually spend the holidays with a very small number of people, and I like to plan in advance. I'm not able to multitask, so I feel more comfortable organizing our holiday trips out of state or arranging our home visitors to come in small groups. This helps me avoid becoming overloaded with details, which can be very stressful.
During this process, I talk to my daughter about everything we have planned. I show her pictures of the people that we are going to spend time with and the house we are going to visit in order to get her familiar with the setting she will be in. I also modified our diet to best fit our lifestyles. We cook the traditional turkey, mashed potato, apple pie and other staples but Valeria's dinner is different since she doesn't eat a lot of things and she is on a gluten free diet. I'm a picky eater too, so I make sure our menu includes the things I like. That's why for us, spending the holidays with immediate family is best because they are familiar with our needs and it helps me to feel comfortable adding or removing certain foods from the menu.
Sensory activities play a big role during holidays. We carry around her favorite toys and we try our best to let other people in on some of the habits she has with them. For example, if she is lining up her toys in certain ways, we explain to people that they shouldn’t move them. We explain that Valeria might not make eye contact or interact like other children, but it’s nothing personal. She likes fidget spinners, small balls, a little piano, her bubble gun, her fake laptop and Pepe. Pepe is a huge teddy bear she has that helps her autoregulate when she has meltdowns. She pretty much goes to Pepe and crashes when overloaded and Pepe's soft texture helps her to calm down. He is a MUST for our holiday ventures!