KARLA MARTINEZ/Coachella Uninc
It was not too long ago that I had no idea what the word “autism” meant. Unfortunately, now I know the definition all too well.
A few years ago, my mother worked with kids with disorders such as anger management, Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She was very observant of their behavior because she wanted to better understand them.
Then about two years ago, my mother noticed that my three-year old cousin, Antonio, was different from the rest of the kids in the family. Antonio couldn’t speak, not even his own name, or respond to anything we said to him. He was uncomfortable in crowded places and was bothered by loud noises. He had many of the same traits as the ASD children she had tutored.
According to Clearing the Fog About Autism, autism is a range of complex neurodevelpment disorders. The symptoms include failing to respond to their names, avoiding eye contact, repetitive movemnts, and becoming indifferent to social engagement.
The challenges of having an autistic child aren’t easy; my aunt has a hard time giving Antonio the attention he requires because she also cares for her two other kids. It is difficult for her to take Antonio anywhere new because he panics and throws tantrums.
Kids with autism will often hurt themselves. This is the case for Antonio; he bites his own hand when he gets nervous or anxious. My aunt has to check on him constantly to make sure he isn’t harming himself or others.
Finding help for Antonio has been the toughest hurdle, especially because my aunt and uncle are undocumented. They don’t meet the requirements to apply for special classes or help from the state. And my aunt is unable to work because she needs to be by Antonio’s side at all times for the sake of his safety.
Antonio, who is now 5, attends kindergarten at John Kelley Elementary in Thermal everyday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. but my aunt noticed it hasn’t helped him much. The school promised speech lessons but neither Antonio nor his classmates have received them. My aunt was disappointed. She was hoping that her son would be able to speak more.
Antonio’s diagnosis as mildly autistic has been hard on the whole family. My aunt and uncle are frustrated because they feel there is no hope for Antonio.
I believe they’re wrong. CNN did a report on Dan Selec. He founded nonPareil Institute, which provides technical training, employment and housing those who have been diagnosed with ASD. Many of autistic students he has trained have gone on to work for his organization.
Like Selec, whose autistic son inspired his organization, I believe there is a future for my cousin and everyone else on the autism spectrum.
Autism is just like any other disorder and should be treated; and, most importantly, we must recognize that there is hope for those afflicted.
Resources for ASD families: