On Accepting My Son’s Autism Diagnosis
Meet Emirick and Myra. Two moms who have sons diagnosed with autism. Emirick, who happens to be one of the hosts on INCMedia’s Faith and Family podcast, was forced to make a change in her perspective as she began accepting her son’s autism diagnosis twenty years ago. Myra began talking about autism just a few years ago, when her son Mateo was diagnosed. They’ll be talking about needs of autism children and shared lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Myra Bigayan: So, Emirick , overall, how did your son change the trajectory of your life?
Emirick Haro: Now, 20 years later, looking back on this journey, in the beginning, not wanting it. But now, I am so grateful. I know that God did not make a mistake.[Show Open]
Aliw Pablo: No matter where you are in the world, there is one thing we have all experienced together—change. This pandemic has forced us out of our comfort zones, and has pushed us into a new norm. And we simply surrendered and figured out a way to thrive.
Welcome to Making Changes, a new podcast from INC Media audio. I’m your host, Aliw Pablo. In this podcast, you’ll hear honest conversations between two people who are on the same path to change, but are in different stages in their journeys. And we’ll learn how they’ve navigated their way around their new normal, but always with God by their side.
On today’s episode, you’ll meet Emirick and Myra, two moms who have sons diagnosed with autism. Emirick, who happens to be one of the hosts in INC Media’s Faith & Family podcast, was forced to make a change in her perspective when she began accepting her son’s autism diagnosis 20 years ago. Myra, on the other hand, began talking about autism just a few years ago, when her son Mateo was diagnosed. They’ll be talking about what it’s like to be parents of children with special needs. And, coincidentally, Myra and Emirick are both educators. And today, we’ll be flies on the wall as these two moms share life lessons they’ve learned along the way. Let’s listen in.
Myra: Hi, Emirick!
Myra: You know, a few years ago, I saw you on Faith Speaks, and I learned a lot, so I reached out to you when Mateo was first diagnosed.
Emirick: Yes, I remember that.
Myra: Thank you so much for answering my questions back then. And, now I have more.
Myra: I know all kids are different. But since I’m a little bit newer in my journey with Mateo, I’m hoping that you can help me with your experiences with Russell. You know, it’ll help me a lot as Mateo grows up. How old is Russell now?
Emirick: Russell just turned 20 years old, two days ago. I don’t want you to think that I’m the expert, okay. So, the experiences that I’m going to share with you are purely my own, with what we’ve gone through in our journey with Russell, and I love talking about it, because I know this journey can be really difficult. When I was going through it, it sometimes felt lonely. You know, I didn’t know many parents who had children with autism. So, I am more than happy to share my experiences with you.
Myra: How did you know that Russell was autistic? What signs Did you see?
Emirick: When he was, like, one, the biggest sign was he wasn’t talking. But he also wasn’t understanding. So, he wasn’t receiving the language. So, when I would talk to him, it’s like he was completely clueless. He just didn’t seem to want to play with kids. He wouldn’t make eye contact, the way he played with toys was different. He would just line things up, or stack things up all the time. Honestly, I was in denial. I didn’t want to think that there was anything wrong, you know.
Myra: Was he only a year old at the time? You didn’t think that he might have just grown out of it?
Emrick: Well, when he was a year old, I just kept saying he’s a late bloomer. And he was getting closer to three. And people kept telling me, like, “I think you should have him checked,” you know, and I could tell people were afraid to tell me also. There came a point where we couldn’t deny it anymore. He was just different. And so we ended up taking him to the doctor, and they quickly diagnosed him, like, he’s autistic. And it was hard.
Myra: Looking back at Mateo, after his 18 month checkup, I remember the doctor asking, “Does he look and point?” And, you know, you’re so used to just saying yes to all of those questions. Yes. You know, those regular checkups. Yes, yes, yes. And then I got home and I realized, wait a minute. No, I’ve never seen Mateo look and point at anything. He was always smiling. He was always happy. And he’d flap his hands when he got excited. But I’d realized that he never had asked me for anything, or shared a moment with me. But, thankfully, we were able to get an appointment just before his second birthday.
Emirick: That’s good. That’s good that you were able to get it early.
Myra: We were really happy that it was early.
Emirick: Yeah, really early intervention.
Myra: If you remember the time before Russell was diagnosed, you know, you had some dreams for him?
Myra: He’s your first born. Did things change after he was diagnosed?
Emirick: You know, I dreamed of the sports he would play, like, I had planned the whole thing out in my head. And, so, when he did get the diagnosis, I was still in denial, and I was hurt, honestly. “Did I do something wrong?” You know, like, “Is this my fault? Is God mad at me? Did I eat the wrong foods?” I kept thinking, “How could this have happened?” You know, I did everything right. You know, I’ve always performed my duty, I worship. I was making this laundry list of why it couldn’t be me.
So, we said a devotional prayer, because we couldn’t quite understand what was happening, like why weren’t my dreams coming true? You know, those kinds of things? Why weren’t my initial prayers of before, you know, when I was pregnant? You know, why? Why was it different? And so we said a devotional prayer to ask for understanding. And, actually, no, it wasn’t asking for understanding in the beginning, it was asking God to take it away. Take away his diagnosis. Make him normal. And, I look back on it now, and I laugh at myself, because it’s like, I was making these demands on God. You know, like, change your plan, I don’t want this, and that’s what my attitude was in the beginning.
But after some time, you know, this was a process. And to make a long story short, I had to change my perspective, and my prayers changed to not asking God to take it away, but asking God to help me understand, and to help me endure it to be strong, and to accept it and to, like, “Obviously, this is Your plan, God, and I want to embrace it. Whatever it is I need to do, whatever it is You need me to see, I’m here, I accept it.”
And that change in perspective is really when the future started looking up, and I started being able to just keep moving and just see the beauty in what was happening with my son.
Myra: Now Mateo is seven. And, you know, he’s still not speaking. He doesn’t have words yet. And so we’re starting to see the changes that we need to make, it’s different from
Emirick: Russell’s experience
Myra: what Russell went through, different from his experience. And so, the change that we had to go through, it actually was in our marriage. You know, we started learning a lot more about each other, and about how we communicate through Mateo. Yeah, it helped us. All the things that they recommended for Mateo. And his therapy actually helped us, you know, when it comes to how people function, how people communicate, and, you know, all of us seeing things differently.
Emirick: Oh that’s nice. There are all these silver linings that come with this, you know, and like you said, it changes your perspective on your marriage, on your relationships. Us too, it made us as a couple stronger. Both of us are educators and, and my husband, he has more experience with special needs children. So he was the more positive one in the beginning, you know, like, it’s gonna be okay. So, we had to lean on each other a lot more. And just be a team.
Myra: I think after we got over the sleep deprivation, you know, for the first few years, Mateo wasn’t sleeping at nighttime.
Myra: I think that was the most difficult thing. In the year or two, following his diagnosis, we didn’t really sleep at all. Mateo would be partying through the night, and it was really tough. And as we prayed, we kept wondering and asking, “What would You like us to learn through this? What do we need to do? What do we need to change in order for things to get better?”
[sound clip – Ipad: O … Mateo]
[sound clip – Dad: Wow]
[sound clip – Therapist: Wow! Good job, buddy!]
[sound clip – Mateo giggling]
Myra: People with autism or, you know, sometimes we’ll see puzzle pieces as the symbol. When we saw those puzzle pieces we thought, wow, we’re the pieces. Mateo is putting us together. That’s how we felt.
Myra: We saw it with us, in our marriage, our daughter Micah. She’s almost two years older than Mateo. And she became more patient, more prayerful for her brother.
Emirick: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Myra: Yeah. How about your, your kids?
Emirick: Russell’s my oldest, and then I have two younger sons, Andrew and David. And, you know, they’re, they’re very protective of their brother. They help him understand the world socially. He admires his brothers and how easily they make friends. And so, they kind of give him advice. They say, “Oh, don’t don’t ask like that, ask like this.” When they meet someone a little socially awkward, they’re really kind. And they can help facilitate, and to where my boys, sometimes their teachers tell me, they get put in groups that, they know this child’s difficult, so they’ll put them in groups with my sons, so that my sons can kind of be the bridge to help them collaborate with other people.
So, in helping Russell understand his condition, it came about because in middle school, he became more socially aware. And I didn’t see that coming, just because for for the longest time, his whole life up until then, he didn’t really need friends. He didn’t, you know, need that social connection. And then all of a sudden, when he became an adolescent, he needed it, you know, and then he was awkward. And people were mean, the kids were mean, and he couldn’t understand why. And he would say things to me, like, “Mom, I think there’s a secret language. And I think everybody knows it, but me.”
And so at that point, you know, I hadn’t told him about autism, because I didn’t want him to feel like he was disabled, I didn’t want him to all of a sudden have a crutch and an excuse to not do the things that I know he can do. But he could tell he was different. And he didn’t know why. So when I finally sat him down, and I talked to him about what autism was, and I explained to him that you’re different, but not less, he started owning autism, and researching himself about what autism is.
[Sound clip – Russell’s video: Autism. This is Xavier. He has a mild form of autism. It makes it hard to do three things. One language, it takes a long time to say what he wants: “Hey, how’s it? Hey, how’s it..”]
Emrick: He had reached a point where he wished everybody knew what autism was. And Russell came up with the idea of making a cartoon because he is very much into animation. And we spent some time over the weekend coming up with a plan, and he made this video.
[Sound clip – Russell’s video: Social skills. Xavier has a hard time fitting in because he doesn’t understand and make friends.]
And then they continue to play that video during Autism Awareness Month, at the middle school, even now.
[Sound clip – Russell’s video: Even though life can be hard, Xavier and other people with autism can do anything anyone else can do.]
Emirick: With Mateo, you know, different, not less, and he is already communicating, right? Just not verbally yet.
Myra: Yes, exactly.
Emirick: But it’s through an iPad right now?
Myra: Yeah, he uses a communication device to speak through symbols.
[Sound clip – iPad: Magnets. Can I have magnets]
And you know, a lot of his therapy involves a focus on communicating, you know, prioritizing communication over speech right now.
Myra: Even though, of course, it’s our wish and our dream or prayer for him to be able to speak, that’s something that we’re entrusting to God. Right now, we’re thankful he can communicate, and he can use the symbols to say things like, “Can I have chocolate?” Or, “Can I have celery?” And at the end of our prayers, he’s able to participate by pressing, “Amen.” And so that’s been a great blessing for us.
[Sound clip: iPad: Amen]
[Sound clip: Good boy]
Myra: I have a friend who, you know, she has a son on the spectrum as well. And she shared with me that when people stare at her child, when he’s being kind of disruptive or having a meltdown, she told me she can’t help but glare at them. I used to get that feeling a lot. You know, I would glare at them. I’m thinking, “Don’t you know, he’s different” and “You should be more patient.” “You should be more patient,” and “You should do this” and “You should do that.” And I stopped. I stopped saying that.
Emirick: I would have to say, in our community at church, and Russell, they’ve known him since he was young. And since he was a baby. He was born in that community. And he used to be disruptive, you know, Russell couldn’t control himself, he would be in church services, and he would babble. There was that like, where you feel like, embarrassed that your son is behaving that way, and you can’t make him stop, and so, I could see where a parent might get defensive, like, “Don’t look at my son that way,” or a parent might even be like, “I’m not going to take my son there, I’m going to spare him from the glaring eyes,” you know, and all that stuff.
Myra: Yeah, my friend was really hesitant to bring her child to the children’s worship service. And I told her what’s worked for me is to be patient, not only with Mateo, but with everyone else.
Myra: And when I don’t look worried, and I look okay, that Mateo’s sitting down beside me, and he might be babbling, but he’s there. And I know that he’s listening. And, you know, as we’ve been taught in the Church Of Christ, you know, faith comes by hearing. And so as long as he’s there, and he’s hearing, for me, that’s already, you know, God’s answering our prayers, you know, Mateo is growing as a member of the Church.
You know, it really helped because all of the officers of the children’s worship service, they learned about him, and they knew all of his quirks, and all of his unique qualities. And they learn different strategies on how to help him just stay there and experience the worship service.
Emirick: So it’s like, it’s like educating the community on neurodiversity, right? So through our son, you know, through our sons, we can help others, you know, embrace neurodiversity, and be patient and all that stuff. So, don’t take your son away from the children’s worship service just because he’s different. Like, actually bring him and don’t be afraid of what other people are going to say, what they are going to think, and all that stuff. Just educate them. “My son, he’s a little, you know, he has some sensitivities, these are his sensitivities, you know, I’ll be here.” And so if you know whatever his triggers are, they learn they’re the triggers. And they can help make it a more peaceful worship for your child and all the other children.
My attitude, my perspective was always about Russell in the future. He’s gonna be a man one day, it’s gonna happen, you know, I can’t slow down time, I can’t pause time. So, I have to prepare him for this time when he’s going to be a man. If I keep hiding him, and making excuses for him, then how is he going to be a successful man, when that time comes. So, I would immerse my son in children’s worship service, I would take him. In the beginning, I was there the whole time. And, you know, we would tag team, my husband and I, we would sit with him. He would get as far as a certain point, then he would start to babble and become a little bit disruptive, then we take him out for a walk. And then we’d explain to him you have to be quiet when you’re in the worship service. And in the beginning, he couldn’t understand that, but little by little, he would understand, and then we would take him until the point where he could stay the whole worship service.
God gifted me with this child, and He entrusted me to raise this child to be, you know, a worshiper, as a servant of God, and so I can’t hide him. I’ve got to teach him. And so even though it’s a challenge, it’s not like what I’ve seen all the other kids do. This one is different. I’m going to do it, you know, and I’m gonna do my best. And so that was my attitude. And today, Russell’s a choir member in the adult choir. He worships from his heart, he understands the teachings.
Myra: That’s so inspiring.
Emirick: And if I had not engaged in that, if I had been afraid, then I don’t know that my son could have ever sat in a worship service.
Myra: That is so inspiring for us because right now we’re so thankful that Mateo can attend the children’s worship service, and even in the video streaming worship services at home. During the pandemic, he’s able to sit, and we can see on his face that he enjoys being there in his way. And when we’re praying for him, we know that there are so many things, even beyond our dreams for Mateo, that God can do for him. You know, he’s not speaking now, but one day, we hope that he does speak and, if he could use his talents to serve God, and even be a minister? Now, that would be something really
Emirick: Wow. Awesome.
Myra: That would be amazing. And we know that it’s not up to us. But you know, if God would allow that, so many more people would be brought closer to God.
Overall, how did your son change the trajectory of your life?
Emirick: Now, 20 years later, you know, looking back on this journey, in the beginning, not wanting it, but now I’m just so grateful, you know, to have gone through this, because there are so many changes in my perspective, in the way my faith is, my faith, and the way I deal with other people. In the world, I am way more open minded. I know that God did not make a mistake. You know, in the beginning, I was confused about it. And I had my own plans, and I thought my life was gonna go in a certain way. But it’s just so much better the way I see things, and the way I feel about my faith and the way I see other people, so I just know God did not make a mistake with this decision, that this had its purpose, and I’m so grateful to have gone through this journey.
Myra: I just want to thank you so much for answering my questions. You know, when I think about all of the changes that we’ve had to make along your journey with Russell, I think about the changes that we’ve had to make with Mateo, and although they’re different sets of changes, we share so much in common, and it’s really helped me to know that I’m not alone.
Emirick: You’re not alone, anytime. Call me anytime, but just hang in there, and just hang on to that hope, and know that, that the changes you’re going through are the changes God wants you to go through. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing. When you look back on it someday.
Aliw: Thanks, Emirick and Myra. I’m so glad you guys were able to share your experiences with each other. Myra, what was it like for you to just be able to connect with someone who understands and shares some of the struggles you’ve been going through?
Myra: Oh, it’s everything to be able to have someone to understand the challenges that we’re facing, and, you know, understand our hopes, especially when it comes to serving God, which is a huge part of our hopes for Mateo.
Aliw: Emirick, do you find that this is something that a lot of families just tend to keep to themselves?
Emirick: Definitely. Just what I’ve gone through with Russell, I love talking about it, because I want to share that hope and that faith in God, when you just kind of surrender your own control, your own plan, and just give it to God and be like, “Hey, you know, I’m going to do whatever, wherever you’re leading me with this I’m going to go.” For the parents, young parents, older parents, who are undergoing this journey with their child who has different needs, a child who is neuroatypical, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not a mistake. God didn’t make a mistake with this. And it’s a beautiful journey. So just hang in there.
Myra: I don’t know how many others are out there suffering silently, thinking that okay, yes, we know that God has put us on this journey, and we’re so thankful for God’s help. But I think part of the help is having people like you and others to be able to talk to about this.
Emirick: Yeah, take away that shame. Take away that like, “Am I being punished? Is this like a horrible thing?” Get rid of that mindset because that’s not helping. And if you truly want to help your son, you’ve just got to accept that this is not a mistake. You have not been cast aside, you know, this is just a different journey. Different, not less, you know, and embrace it. And just have faith that it’s gonna be okay. Have faith and work hard. There you go.
Aliw: AndI think, Emirick, what’s so beautiful about listening to you and Myra’s conversation is seeing your journey 20 years later. And it’s not, you know, it’s not just a theory. God will be the one to help and God will be the one to make sure that His children’s lives will always work for the good. Because you are literally living proof. You and Russell are living proof of that. It was a lot of work, like you said, but at the end of the day, surrendering and trusting God is what’s going to really make this journey a beautiful one.
Emirick: For sure
Aliw: Thanks, guys.
Emirick: Thank you.
Myra: Thank you.
Aliw: Special thanks again to Emirick and Myra for taking the time to share their stories and life lessons with us. And if you found value in what you heard today, please share it with a friend. And we’d greatly appreciate it if you can leave a review on whatever platform you’re listening from.
Now, be sure to subscribe to Making Changes to stay up to date with new episodes. For more inspiring content or to learn more about the Iglesia Ni Cristo, Church Of Christ, log on to incmedia.org or download the INC Media app. Thanks for listening and may your change uplift you.