Autism awareness month: The Martell family’s journey
When Cara and Bobby Martell first learned that their son Joey was autistic, they worried. Would he ever speak? Could he ever be independent?
As a toddler, Joey was non-verbal, extremely hyper and wouldn’t stay put.
Despite being told by family that he was “just being a boy,” Cara and Bobby eventually suspected it was more than that.
“It was always stressful to take him places because he would just want to run away, but we also didn’t want to keep him isolated,” Cara says. “It was a challenge and caused us a lot of anxiety.
“It was emotional for my husband and I. We were scared about his safety.”
Joey was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 2 and autism spectrum disorder at age 3. When he turned 3, Joey began visits to Mary Bridge Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit or CTU, which serves infants, children and adolescents with special needs.
Through occupational and feeding therapy services at CTU, the PLAY Project and a host of other programs and services offered locally — and lots of hard work and patience from his parents — Joey is now a thriving 6-year-old who speaks and can sit still in class.
His occupational therapist, Dawn Heino, says Joey’s growth has taken time, but that he has come far.
“Joey has made amazing progress and continues to learn new skills,” she says.
Heino offers this advice to other parents in the same situation:
“Take an active role in your child’s treatment plan. Talk to your providers about your goals, actively participate in therapy and when at school, ask questions and learn the intervention techniques so you can use them at home.”
Early intervention, education and courage
The Martells admit it’s been a tough road, but says the CTU has been supportive and positive during the journey.
“The CTU has taught us a lot,” Cara says.
“Dawn’s been wonderful,” adds Bobby.
For other parents in their situation, the couple recommend early intervention and educating yourself as much as possible about available resources such as the CTU, as well as the special education system.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Cara says. “And don’t be afraid to take your child out in public and push them, no matter how difficult.”
And though parenting Joey is different than parenting their other children, the Martells have a positive outlook.
“You always have an ideal picture in your head for your children, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Cara says. “And there are always ups and downs with any child. We’re all unique. And there’s a unique way autistic people look at life. He’s helped us look at life differently.”
About autism spectrum disorder and how you can help
Children with autism need therapy right away. One in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It affects four times as many boys as girls. In the United States, 50,000 children with autism become adults every year. The cost of lifetime care can be reduced significantly with early intervention. Therapy that begins as soon as symptoms of autism appear, typically at age 2 or 3, fosters healthy development and helps children discover what is possible.
Children with autism need the support of the community. April is designated as Autism Awareness Month. It is important that parents and caregivers recognize the symptoms and seek help right away. It is also important that people in the community understand the condition — and extend support to children and their families.
You can help. Our community is fortunate to have Mary Bridge Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit (CTU), with over 50 years of expertise in helping children with special needs, including those with autism, attain their full potential. The CTU provides expert therapy for hundreds of children with autism and other developmental delays every year. Many of them achieve remarkable milestones, which would not have been possible without donor supported programs.
About The Author
Roxanne Cooke is our senior content editor and manages Vitals, Kite Strings and Bring Happy Back, plus special projects such as 24 Hours at Tacoma General Hospital and The Healthy Futures Project. She tells stories in words, photos and video. You can reach her at [email protected]More stories by this author