#willworkforcaltrans Spotlight on Special Thinker: Diego

Today we get to meet Diego, son of Dori (autism mom & special education teacher, too!)

Check her out on Instagram @DORI510

“You
need a sign,” Diego informed me.  He
was going to be 5 soon and had just slipped on the wet tile in the
kitchen. “Make
me one then,” I told him.  Famous last
words.  I had wanted him to start writing
his named but this stubborn child refused to use markers, crayons or pencils.

What
started as a slip and fall evolved into a full blown obsession.  Diego makes signs for everything and out of
anything.  It’s how we got him to start
writing and reading.  For Sale signs
started simple then started including details; red bike, fast scooter.  Anything that helped him become interested in
words and their meaning.  Before you knew
it, our house was covered in Post It’s with directions, exit signs, and
warnings.  But I wouldn’t change it for
the world.



We
were blessed with Diego in 2006.  I quit
my job as a Special Education Teacher so I could stay home and spend the first
few years with our child.  I imagined
days of scrapbooking while the baby (or babies) played.  We’d bake cookies and sing songs together.  We would take long walks to the park so he
could play while I chatted with the other moms. 
You know, all the fun things that parents are supposed to do.  We waited so long to have kids, this was
supposed to be IT! 

That first year and a half we hit
most of the typical milestones- sitting up, rolling over, crawling, walking,
but there were a few things that made me think- no language, fleeting eye
contact, obsession with the blinds in our house. Open, close, open, close.  It felt like Autism. I didn’t want to say it.  I didn’t want to think it.  But it was there. Trips to the park were few
and far between.  Diego was more
interested in a tree than kids or playing. 
His little chubby legs stumbling along, around and around while his
hands simply dragged around the trunk. 
Same tree every time. 

On a long car drive, I shared my
concerns with my husband, hoping he would say I was worried about nothing.  That maybe I’m making too much of little
things.  That’s not what he said.  He said, “That makes sense. Autism.  Yeah, I see it too.” Damn. Then
then doctor agreed.  Damn. Then
the psychologist agreed. Damn.  And two
more after that.  Double damn.

Then
it was time to get to work.  And work we
did.  We had in-home services, OT, speech,
and of course my own home therapy.  It
was a full day of work for both of us. 
It was the most difficult time of our lives.  I felt cheated out of his childhood.  What should have been easy was a battle.  Learning to use a cup was painful.  Saying words was agonizing.  Potty training was simply impossible.  Every little change in our routine triggered
big meltdowns.  Our house had double
locks for fear of him escaping.  We
couldn’t go anywhere and he never slept. 
It was exhausting.

He
started preschool at 3 in a visually structured class and I decided to go back
to work.  I just needed time to think
about other people’s problems for a little while.  We also enrolled Diego in daycare with
support services to be provided at the daycare center. We lucked out with a
simply amazing team!  They worked at the
daycare center for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.  With the school support, the daycare support
and still visiting a speech pathologist twice a week, we were getting
somewhere!  Words like “Legos, milk,
food, snack, green, orange, mom, dad, more,” became part of his vocabulary.  Tantrums began to fade.  A little loving boy started to be
understood.  He was finally able to share
things with us!  

It
was a whirlwind of emotions.  Time always
seemed too short.  Days flew by.  But strong connections were made.  I called in favors when needed.  Working in Special Education, you never know
who you’re going to meet.  That parent,
she runs the local park for kids with special needs.  That other parent is a psychologist.  The program specialist; she’s BFF’s with a
service provider I’ve been wanting to touch bases with.  When it’s your own child, everyone is fair
game.  And lucky us- the people we reached
out too wanted to help. They became our support network and us a part of
theirs.  It was simply a blessing. 

Fast
forward five years- Diego is now seven, and he’s simply amazing!  He talks non-stop about earthquakes and fault
lines. He can build machines out of cardboard and make them work.  He’s able to get up on stage and perform in
plays and dances.  Of course, he still
has challenges (classroom noise is upsetting, personal space is always an
issue, making friends is HARD) but we are focusing ourselves on the positive
and counting the blessings he has brought us.

Diego
is amazing to me.  Simply amazing.  He has friends of all abilities.  He understands what it’s like for his friends
with limited vocabularies and reminds us, “When I didn’t have words, I was mad
and threw things too.  She’s just
mad.”  He takes dance classes and goes
to Lego camp.  When people mention a
country, he has to know if it’s above the equator or below.  He loves to see traffic signs from other
countries and still points out orange construction cones when we’re driving
around.  He’ll even tell you what kind of
cone it is.  Yes, they have names.  Who knew? 
With time, I’m praying and hoping that his social interactions become
easier.  Although, I have a feeling when
he’s an adult, it will be okay. 

Before
Diego was born, I remember thinking, I just want a child who is average and has
a fun life.  Well, Diego is certainly not
average but he does have a fun life! 
Give him cardboard, tape and markers and he’ll build you a trash
compactor.  I know for a fact, that kid
will work for Cal Trans. 
         

 
There
was once a lazy dinosaur laying in the jumbo hot tub. And suddenly, a crazy
UFO swooshed through the area. There was a navy radio. Weird? A lady
appeared with a sword. What she did with it was she made dinosaur soup out of
the dinosaur.

The end

^story written by Diego 🙂

WOW! Thank you so much for sharing Diego with us, Dori!!!! He is truly something special! 🙂

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