By Shaun and Mary Beth Gatchell
Shaun and I were married in October of 2009 and were eager to start a family. We were thrilled when our first child, our son Brady, was born in September of the following year. Over the next year, we watched Brady grow and change as we checked off his list of “firsts”: the first time he rolled over, his first tooth, first steps, and first birthday. His first word however never came. We voiced our concern to family and friends who offered their advice. “He’ll talk when he’s ready,” they all said. At Brady’s 18-month checkup, our family doctor recommended early intervention therapy.
Brady continued to grow and work with his therapists. As he was nearing his third birthday, his therapists introduced the possibility of Brady being autistic. At first we didn’t want to believe it. He was only 3; surely he was just a little behind. He was our first child and we had nothing to compare our experiences to. It was after we enrolled Brady in a pre-school program with typical 3-year-olds that we finally realized that there was something definitely wrong. We took Brady to several specialists to confirm the diagnosis of autism and to start developing a treatment program. Brady was recommended to receive intensive behavioral interventions and supports to address his delays. Brady could not function in the activities that a typical 3-year old could accomplish. He did not speak and could not use utensils. Concerns regarding Brady’s safety were ever present, and potty training was a distant goal.
Brady is now 6 years old and we have started celebrating a different, but equally important list of “firsts”: the first time Brady was able to use a fork to stab food on his dinner plate, the first time he was able to sit on the potty for thirty seconds, the first time he pointed to request an item, and the first time we were able to go for a walk and Brady did not try to run away. Brady remains non-verbal and is largely dependent on us for his daily care. His education plan at The Vista School continues to address his significant needs. He is learning PECS, a picture exchange system that provides a mode of communication, as well as imitation skills and following simple directions. Brady is also working towards his potty training goal and is now feeding himself most of the time, with some encouragement from us, his teachers, and his therapists. Brady is also learning how to swim at school. We think he may be part fish!
As the parents of an autistic child, we walk a line each day of being happy in the progress that Brady has made, but concerned at the long road he has to go. Sitting here today, it is hard to imagine what Brady’s transition to adulthood will be like. We are down in the weeds each day working with Brady, executing his education plan, and running programs in our home to help him. At its most basic level, we hope for a time where Brady will be able to be more independent, being able to communicate and interact with people he comes across in his daily life.
Parents dream of their children growing up and leading lives where they are happy and loved. Looking back on Brady’s list, he has many more “firsts” to achieve, but he is happy, he is loved, and he is being prepared for what the future has to bring.