Finding the Right Place for Gabriel
We went through years of trying to find the right school, the right programs and a place where Gabriel could thrive. It takes a lot of patience, and it is a lonely place for a parent to be.
It was also really hard for Ahmad and me to find services on the South Side of Chicago. This included the challenge of getting people to come to the house—yet another level of frustration that African American and Latino families may encounter. Finally, we found a program in the suburbs of Chicago that had small classes, comfortable routines and appropriate therapies. Gabriel stayed there until he was ready for first grade. He still had not been diagnosed with autism.
It wasn’t until we looked at putting Gabriel into the public school system that we received a definitive diagnosis of autism. It was both heartbreaking and empowering. For us, it took away the ability to be in denial and put the onus on us as Gabriel’s parents to take action. When you get the diagnosis, it makes it black and white and you must do what’s best for the child. A parent’s fears can get in the way of acting in the best interest of the child. With the diagnosis, you have no choice. When you find out what is going on, you can find communities and help.
I guess deep down I always knew it was autism, but I kept saying to myself “OK, but nobody’s definitively told me that. But when they did, it gave Ahmad and me a framework and a context.”
A Big Change
After coming to terms with the diagnosis, our family decided to move to Houston to be closer to my extended family. In Houston, we found the ideal school for Gabriel to thrive. Plus, the slower pace and milder climate helps with Gabriel’s sensory disorders. The school gave him opportunities that wouldn’t have been available at a mainstream school, for example, an ability to be on the soccer and basketball teams. Now, at age 12, he is very verbal, and loves to write and draw.