In The Words of Our Parents
“That’s a picture you would never be able to see a few months ago,” Marleny murmurs.
She is looking at her three-and-a-half-year-old son Ethan sitting in his father’s lap, laughing as he plays with a cell phone.
“He would never sit on his lap like that,” Marleny explains. “He’d say, ‘Don’t touch me’ and push him away. He started getting better with therapy at home. Since he’s been in New York Center’s preschool, he’s been getting really, really good. A lot of things have changed for the better, unbelievably.”
Marleny and her husband Elvis became increasingly concerned about their son’s behavior as he approached two years old. “We took him to his regular check-up and told the doctor we were worried because he wasn’t talking or doing other things that our daughter did when she was two.”
He was also doing things that she hadn’t.
“He used to always be by himself,” Elvis says. “Kids were playing over here and he’d be over there in the corner. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He’d get frustrated and hit himself or bang his head on the wall and floor. It got to a point where we were nervous that one day he would hurt himself badly.”
“It got to a point where we were afraid to take him anywhere,” Marleny interjects. “He was terrified of loud noises and would have these outbursts. I used to think, ‘Oh my God, is my son retarded?’ ‘What am I going to do with him when he has to go to school?’ I didn’t know they have schools for kids like him from two years to five. If you don’t know, you think so many crazy things like, ‘They’re going to make fun of him and send him to a special school and he’s not going to be able to get along with anybody.’ Now I know that he’s not like this because he’s retarded or I’m a bad mother or he’s a bad child. He has problems. He needs help. I will always be thankful to the doctor who sent us to have him evaluated.”
“We were very frightened when we first heard the word autism,” Marleny continues. “One of the biggest problems is that parents don’t want to recognize that their kids have problems, and when they do, it’s already too late. The psychologist told me when a child is over five, it’s hard to mold the brain to what you want them to learn. When they’re babies, you can teach the brain everything, but when they’re older, it’s harder.”
“Ethan got ABA therapy every day and Speech and Occupational Therapy. He started to get better, and since he’s been in school in the ABA classroom at New York Center, he’s been getting really, really good. He’s more calm. He’s able to say a lot of words. You can talk to him and he listens. When he watches cartoons, he says, ‘Mommy, hold my hand.’ A lot of things have changed unbelievably in a good way”.
“What makes New York Center’s preschool special is the people,” she continues. “They understand the problems and that parents have to learn the same way that our children do to be able to deal with them. Without the help the teachers and therapists at New York Center are giving us, I’m telling you, you could lose your mind dealing with a child with these kinds of problems. They are not only teaching Ethan, they’re teaching us how to deal with them.”
“Ethan’s teacher Jessica is always sending me papers about autism – anything that can give me more information,” she explains. “I talk to her a lot and I go over there once or twice a week just to see how he’s doing. Jessica even sent me a book with all the songs my son likes to sing. She says you have to give him what he likes to hear and then, little by little, you can go to the next step. Whenever I call her and tell her a situation, she tells me, ‘Okay, this what you have to do.’ She’s teaching us how to deal with him when he gets one of those attacks he gets from time to time.”
“It takes a lot of patience and work,” Elvis says.
“It’s worth it,” Marleny insists. “I cried with joy the first time I said, ‘Ethan give me a hug’ and he opened his arms and came and gave me a hug. At New York Center they told me if everything keeps working the way it has been, if he keeps improving every day, he has a big chance to go to a regular school.”
Ethan squirms happily in his father arms, watching a video on the cell phone.