by Brenna Destito
My name is Brenna, and I love being mom to 2 amazing kids. My oldest child, Isaac was born the day after Christmas. We had experienced infertility struggles for two years prior, and he was the Christmas gift we had long awaited. As a nurse I’ve had the great privilege of watching many families interact with their newborns during those first days and weeks of life. Finally experiencing those moments with our own baby felt almost surreal. Isaac’s first few years seemed to progress “normally” full of what felt like the typical busy, exciting, exhausting, overwhelming, and precious days of parenthood. Isaac was for the most part hitting all his milestones. He was an active, silly, and sweet boy who loved tractors, clocks, riding his trike, and anything that included playing outside…especially in the dirt!
Between the ages of 2 and 3 we started to notice he had difficulty sustaining eye contact, and he seemed to be in constant motion. He had some delays in speech, and would often repeat parts of books, or TV shows over and over. We chalked most of this up to him just being “a busy boy” but we started to have that “gut feeling” that maybe we should consider having him evaluated. When Isaac entered daycare at age 3, we were called on multiple occasions to come and pick him up because the staff was struggling to manage his behaviors. As it became obvious that he was interacting differently than his peers we knew we needed help. Finding that help however didn’t come easy, as we were told on several occasions he seemed “too social” to be on the spectrum. Thankfully our speech therapist encouraged us to push to have him evaluated.
Even as we headed out of town for his evaluation, I think I had in my mind we would once again hear, “He’s just a busy 4-year-old boy.” I will admit as we were told “Your son meets criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder” I was immediately struck with fear and uncertainty- for Isaac, and our whole family. Even as a nurse my understanding of what being on the spectrum meant was limited, and I felt unsure of our next steps. My husband reminded me that our precious boy who was in the playroom waiting for us was still the same funny, silly, busy, smart, and kind boy we adored. It was now our job to learn as much as we could, to understand Isaac better and seek out the help and support we knew we would need.
We were told there weren’t a lot of resources in Walla Walla, but we were advised to start OT and given a Rx for ABA therapy. Occupational therapy has been important in helping us and Isaac understand his senses, how his mind and body are interacting with the world around him, and practical skills and techniques.
After 2 years of numerous waitlists, we were finally able to start an ABA program this past summer. While we were excited about the benefits of ABA, we were also apprehensive about how it would go, and really what he would be doing. Having a therapist in our home 10-15 hours a week honestly felt a little overwhelming. However, we have so far had a wonderful experience. Isaac has bonded with a therapist who just gets him. Isaac looks forward to his time with his therapist which is such a relief. Not to say there aren’t rough days. I’ve had to move past my feelings of expecting Isaac to “behave” during therapy, but as we are reminded by his therapist “A tough day in therapy is a good day because it means we’re working through things.” The progress Isaac has made has been phenomenal. His main struggles have been social-emotional, impulse control, and rigidity. We are seeing so much more flexibility in Isaac since starting therapy. His therapist often pushes him to work through his rigidity without Isaac even realizing what he’s doing. This has had a positive impact on day-to-day life in our house. As parents we are also learning a lot. It’s been nice to have an extra support, someone to talk through concerns, problem solve with and help us understand certain behaviors. We are so grateful to finally be accessing this service here in Walla Walla.
Thankfully we were also encouraged to contact the Disability Network where we have felt unconditional love, support and understanding. I love watching Isaac participate in Network activities. I always feel a sense of calm just knowing he can fully be himself.
This year Isaac’s teacher encouraged him (as he felt comfortable) to share with his class what being Autistic meant for him, what were some of his challenges and different abilities. He read a short story about himself that we wrote together, and it has helped his classmates have a better understanding of him, as well as given Isaac confidence to begin advocating for himself. I love that his teacher is encouraging empathy and understanding of neurodiverse students. Teaching inclusion and acceptance at such a young age gives me so much hope for all our kiddos.
At times the looks of irritation, impatience, judgement, or frustration from others can feel heavy, but we are blessed to have family and friends who, on the great days and the hard days encourage us, pray with us, laugh and cry with us. We are so thankful that Isaac has had teachers, support staff and therapists who try to understand him and his unique gifts and needs. As parents we know we still have so much to learn, but we will continue advocating for him.
Isaac is smart, brave, and friendly. His kindergarten teacher told us every morning he would greet each classmate by name. He is so much more outgoing than I have ever been. He is inquisitive and funny, and currently asks about all things historical. His laugh is infectious, and his little sister adores him! He loves batman, soccer, Star Wars, music, old cars, riding bikes, swinging, and has just recently mastered the monkey bars.
I often think of all the extra effort our kiddos put in to adjust to the world around them. I see how hard Isaac works… and I do worry that he will always feel like he is the one who must adjust to “fit in.” We try hard to have a balance between the feeling of challenging Isaac to learn new skills, so that he can function to his own best ability and simply celebrating who HE is, and the unique abilities and gifts he has to offer, because we believe children are ALL beautifully and wonderfully created. They are whole, they each have a purpose, and they teach us so much each day. Isaac has taught us patience, understanding, and to slow down and really listen to and see those around us. I love that no matter how rocky his day may have been when I pick him up from school he tells me “BEST DAY EVER!”
When you slow down and listen to him (even while he is pacing the room) you will see he is interesting, caring, funny, perceptive and at times brutally honest. We are reminded every day that being Isaac’s parents is an honor and privilege.