One in 36 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to 2020 data, the most recent the CDC has available. But in many of our families, and newsrooms, it’s not about statistics, it’s about our kids.
I started really learning about Autism when my nephew Mateo was diagnosed around age three. I watched my sister, an educator, jump in with both feet to advocate for him and make sure he had the therapies and treatments he would need to live a happy, healthy, and successful life on the spectrum and what that would mean for him. While my sister did that, she also helped the rest of the family understand how we could support them both. That’s meant being more patient, knowing when to ask questions instead of give advice, and to make connections the way Mateo wants and needs, not the way we want and need. Mateo is now a freshman in high, an honor roll student, and is in the marching and concert bands. He always told our family that he considers Autism his super power, because it makes him accepting of all people, and allows him to see the world differently from the rest of us. It’s been a gift for our entire family to see the world through his eyes. It’s a more curious, colorful, and funny place.
I’ve also experienced different parts of the Autism Spectrum through my friend Kari Hall, who is the ‘Today in the Bay’ meteorologist at NBC Bay Area. She and her husband have two beautiful children and both of them are on the spectrum. Her 11-year-old son KJ is now in 5th grade. He receives therapy at school but spends his day in a traditional classroom. He is kind and sweet and we suspect he’ll build the cars or roads we’ll all use someday.
Kari’s daughter Bella is “six going on 16” in Kari’s words. In Kari’s pictures, you can definitely see a mischievous sparkle in Bella’s eyes when she flashes her gorgeous smile. Although Kari had the experience of KJ’s diagnosis, Bella’s life on the spectrum is a very different one. Bella is non-verbal and suffers from severe food aversions. In January of 2022, Bella just stopped eating altogether. Unbeknownst to our morning show family, between workdays, Kari was rushing back and forth to the hospital, meeting with specialists and eventually, learning how to maintain Bella’s feeding tube. Kari handled it with such enormous grace that we were shocked to hear the load she was carrying alone.
“I was really struggling with whether or not to share what was happening in my personal life, I didn’t want to burden people. But when I did, I realized how many people were willing to help with advice and encouragement and prayer,” Kari shared with our team and our NBC Bay Area viewers. That’s her advice, “share with people what you’re going through.” You can see our discussion here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CrMwNzaJhDk/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
After more than a year of Applied Behavior Analysis – ABA therapy – Bella’s learning to communicate, she’s learning self-care skills and about safety, and she’s opening up to eating. She still uses a feeding tube to keep hydrated, but is back at school. Kari is now a powerful advocate for her family and others and is a frequent emcee for the Silicon Valley Autism Speaks Walk.
Here’s a recent interview Kari did with a nurse and parenting coach about what families can and should do after diagnosis. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/health/autism-awareness-what-families-can-do-after-diagnosis/3203585/?fbclid=IwAR098Ksll6nb5ncDEe-s9I_qUqV8pxw-cxWSSpuoOTJN30keiNnwACGDl3k
Autism is also part of the family of NATAS Governor and Vice-President of Small Markets, Nazy Javid, whose “bonus sons,” are both adults on the spectrum. Nazy echoes what a lot of us know first-hand. “They teach us not to sweat the small stuff, and they simplify our outlook on life, for there is so much joy in the little things,” Nazy wrote in a post honoring Parker and Sean on April 18th, Adult Autism Awareness Day. You can see it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CrMwNzaJhDk/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
If you have an ASD diagnosis in your family, you want to be better informed the next time you cover an Autism story, or you’d like to lend support you can find more information in the links below.