Autism Blog: Early learning

By Margarita Rivera, News 13
Last Updated: Monday, April 03, 2017, 1:47 PM EDT

He was 13 months and still no words.

  • AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH BLOG: Our own Margarita Rivera is mom to 5-year-old Romeo, who is on the autism spectrum. Come with us as she shares their journey.

There are on average seven to 10 pediatric appointments between birth and 18 months. I remember feeling like I should have a cot in the exam room! For me, appointments had become fairly predictable: Doctor checks baby’s height, weight, ear, nose, throat; then, we discuss milestone successes.

Everything seemed perfectly on schedule until that last question: How many words can he say?

My answer was always the same: None.

The doctor casually marked "no" on the medical chart.

“Shouldn’t he be saying something by now, doctor?” I asked this question, and with every following appointment, I felt more unsure of what I was to expect.

“He’ll get there in the next few months,” is what I was told.

As a first-time parent, you enter a new world that no one and nothing could prepare you for. Sleep patterns are altered, priorities are forever analyzed and your time is dedicated to the details of your little person’s development. It’s only natural that when something is new to you, you search for answers in those who have experienced. So I did. I listened to what many had to say about my son. I received mixed opinions, but the comment, “He is a boy, and boys tend to develop later” prevailed.

While children normally form consonants at 8 months — the mamas, dadas, yayas, etc. — I was extremely excited when I finally saw what I thought was progress when Romeo began at 16 months.

Unfortunately, by 18 months, he completely lost that communication, sending him on a regression that left him mute until the age of 4 1/2 years.

Along with no speech, Romeo provided no eye contact with anyone. He wouldn’t respond to his name and began the habit of banging his head on the wall or floor repeatedly with no expression of concern or pain.

Gratefully, I was referred to Florida Early Learning, and without hesitation, we began this journey.

I cannot tell you how glad I am to have followed my intuition. Florida Early Learning was able to send an intake specialist to my house after-hours for prescreening in having my son evaluated. This program is available to those under the age of 3 in need of therapy services. Once Romeo turned 3, they helped us transition into public school for additional therapies.

The road through yearly evaluations has not been an easy one. But with Romeo having been in a full-day school program for the past two years, he has been able to make tremendous progress! Romeo enjoys repeating everything he hears in both English and Spanish. He loves singing songs and reciting his shapes, colors and months of the year. Although we continue to work on the reciprocation of communication, this progress in my little boy pushes me to encourage any parent hesitant in reaching out for assistance not to delay.

Have a proactive approach and follow your intuition.