Julie’s son, Johnnie, was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. Through her experience she sees parents of special needs children as superheroes. She knows their arch-enemy is denial and their strongest ally is therapy. She states, “Building your team of warriors against the disease is the key to success.” Julie remembers how strong the denial was when he was first diagnosed but then realized Johnnie had issues long before. She remembers his first birthday as if it were yesterday.
“On his first birthday, we had a huge party for him. I invited all of our family and friends to celebrate the blessing of Johnnie into our lives. Unfortunately, Johnnie spent the entire party hiding under his crib. While the other children enjoyed games and fun, Johnnie cried. When the big cake moment arrived, I had to force him into the dining area and, only to make matters worse, I guided his hands into the icing of his cake. The blood curdling screams could be heard throughout the neighborhood.”
Under the blanket of Autism, Johnnie suffers from an array of conditions. These conditions include: sensory integration, disorder, severe eating diversion, overall developmental delays, moderate dyspraxia, and social and behavioral impairment. She remembers having to fill out questionnaires at one of the many therapy establishments they went to. She always had trouble answering what Johnnie’s strengths were. She knew he must have strengths but could only think of Johnnie’s sweetness and kindness. She was often embarrassed that she couldn’t name anything else.
Like many families, Julie and her family found themselves financially challenged after a year of out-of-pocket expenses. Johnnie soon started the Early Special Education program at public school. Julie had previously received a recommendation for Johnnie to experience behavioral intervention as well. She had been in previous contact with a highly reputable Behavior Analyst in the tri-county area, Dr. Jonathan Worchester. But, due to their lack of funds, they applied to the Pinellas Support Team program for assistance. They went through the application process and Johnnie was selected as an acceptable candidate. Within an eight-week period, Dr. Worcester armed Julie’s family with the tools they needed to raise Johnnie and his siblings in the most successful way possible.
Johnnie is now four-and-a-half years old and has taken off “like a rocket!” Julie used to be the only one Johnnie would allow to have physical contact with him. Now he has developed a relationship with everyone in their household and even friends at school. Today, Julie also has a long list of strengths for Johnnie. “We have to thank our therapists and doctors for all that progress. I think if he could, Johnnie would thank me and our family for believing in him and never giving up. His ability to show us love is thanks enough. We feel so lucky to be in the position we are in, we feel like we have never-ending hope for Johnnie and his progress throughout the years to come.”