I began my professional career in banking on Wall Street and later moved to insurance. How then, did I end up in human services? Often, we see things coming, usually those things we’ve intended, planned for, and worked toward. But sometimes life catches us off guard.
And so it was that one day, my toddler son’s day care teacher asked me to come in for a talk. She told me she was worried that he wasn’t communicating, that he was talking and interacting very little, if at all, with teachers and children.
I thought she must have the wrong kid. My kid was the one that other parents were jealous of. My kid was the one who happily reconstructed a half-hour TV show while we sat down to a relaxing dinner. He spoke—in both English and Spanish! He was a boy; they talk later. Clearly the teacher was wrong.
Then I went and observed him in the classroom and thought to myself, “Who is that kid? That’s not my son.” After meeting with experts and a host of examinations and tests, I was told that my son had autism.
When there’s no framework for comprehension, we are left with shock and disbelief. My picture of autism was rocking and hand flapping; that’s all I knew. The only questions I knew to ask were: What does this mean? What will my son’s life look like?
I turned to the Internet for answers and the news wasn’t good. Overwhelmingly, the information that came up spoke to how devastating this diagnosis was. All the research said, in a phrase, “This is hard.” Nowhere was there helpful information about what it really meant or how to proceed.
That’s when I called Autism Connections, which is a Pathlight program. A woman named Jeanne answered the phone and I told her what little I knew. She listened to me and heard my concerns about my son’s new diagnosis. She listened, then she gave advice, offered resources, and suggested next steps. This was the first time that I connected with someone who knew what I was going through.
In other words, Jeanne gave me hope.
That ray of hope—that connection and community—has carried me and my family through as we’ve walked this unexpected path.
My son is now 20 years old. With hard work and support, he has been able to accomplish many of the goals he set for himself: being on a sports team, getting his driver’s license, graduating from high school and attending college in Boston. And 13 years ago, I stepped onto a different professional path and joined Pathlight as its Director of Administration.
Then, and now in my new role as Pathlight’s Executive Director, I recall the first time I called Autism Connections and how it made me feel. I remember and I know that’s what we are doing here at Pathlight every day. We give people hope. We make a difference in the lives of many.
I’m grateful to have this unexpected opportunity, through this journey with my son, to deeply understand the truth that everyone’s life has dignity and joy. If you find yourself on a similar path, we at Pathlight look forward to meeting you where you are and walking with you for as long as you need us.