• Lisa Valerio

                I am a mother of a beautiful, loving, happy 9-year-old boy named Nathan, a word in Hebrew, which means “gift.”  Nathan was born with no complications, and met all his milestones up until his 2nd birthday.  Then, within a month after his 2nd birthday, I suddenly noticed that some words were disappearing from his repertoire. He was not pointing anymore. He was anxious around ceiling fans, and could become overly joyous watching spinning objects.

                That was when I decided to contact Nathan’s pediatrician. She was not overly concerned, but indicated we should get his speech evaluated.  I mentioned this to my sister, a Special Ed teacher, and told her that I was worried that Nathan was not picking up new words.  She said she noticed some early signs of Autism when she saw Nathan right after his second birthday, but she was too nervous and afraid to tell me, as she did not want to hurt me.

                When I heard the word “Autism,” I thought I was going to die. My body went into shock, and I shook and ached as if I was in child labor.  My stomach was in knots and I felt so scared. I went to the Internet and did a Google search on Autism but could not focus on what was in front of me.  I am a businesswoman, with a drive and can-do attitude. For me, anything can be accomplished. Yet at that moment in my life, I could not even function to read the words in front of me.  I could not imagine how I was going to tell my husband what was in store for us.

                I had Nathan’s speech evaluated and asked the speech pathologist if she saw any signs of Autism, and expressed my sister’s concern.  She said she did not, though she did see moderate speech delay and recommended speech two times a week.  She suggested I contact GGRC and get an evaluation. She said GGRC could assist in developmental delays in speech.  We got an appointment with GGRC three months later and the doctor who evaluated him did see some early signs of Autism. The doctor suggested that we need to work on redirecting it.

                We were assigned a social worker and referred to Community Gate Path for early intervention. I was spinning out of control and felt like I was on a treadmill that would not stop.  I was on a mission to redirect my son’s Autism. Boy, I wish I knew then what I know now – ‘redirecting Autism’ was the wrong phrase to use.  My husband was in denial and I quickly accepted, grieved, and started my research.  At 3 years old, my son was officially diagnosed with Autism and only had a few words. But with the help of Dr. Rebecca Fineman, Sara Chapman, Deborah Bloom, Community Gate Path’s Family Resource Center, Susan Walton’s Peninsula Parent’s Online Yahoo Group, and the support of family and friends, I was on the road to getting my son the services he/we needed, including ABA, OT, Speech, DIR/Floortime, Diaper Service, Respite, etc.

                From 3-to-6 years old Nathan had an intense home based program (ABA, Speech, OT) while attending two mornings a week at Learning Links Inclusion Program in Burlingame, with a 1-to-1 aid (all covered by insurance – after much advocating and appeals). Then, on Nathan’s 6th birthday he received the best present ever – he started his first day of school at Wings Learning Center in Redwood City.  He has been at Wings Learning Center for three years now and making steady progress.  He got a Vantage Lite AAC (voice-output device) two years ago and started out with just one-word requests with his device. Now, he can string three to four words together and showing pride in being able to communicate his basic needs!

                This has become a journey, and reflecting back, I can say I have grown and learned more than I have ever had in my entire life.  I can truly say that my education and career did not set me up for this endeavor. Rather, it is the unconditional love for my child that has given me the power, the drive, the hope, the perseverance and the tenacious ability to advocate for him.

                It has opened doors for me and has given me the opportunity to see and accept things that I could have never seen or accepted before.  And, it has allowed me to meet some of the most interesting, gifted, talented, intellectual, and caring people. It has given me the passion to help others advocate for services, seek support and locate resources. And interestingly, my son’s love for the iPad has lead me back to my career in marketing and advertising where my business partner and I help educational tech and app developers get noticed.

                I believe that things happen for a reason, though they can get painful at times. But what I realize is that they often end up with an incredible and wonderful reason.  So, I will continue to reflect back in order to understand the reasons why my son has Autism.  People often tell me, “Nathan is so lucky to have you.” But the truth is, I am the lucky one because I have my gift, my Nathan.

                Lisa is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend – all which gives her drive, inspiration, and passion in life. She loves to travel and spend quality time with family and friends in her down time. Her career of over 20+ years has been in the field of marketing and advertising. She is the Co-Founder of Henry Nate Consulting, LLC.  Lisa also works as an Insurance Advocate with Autism Health Insurance Project and is an active volunteer at Community Gatepath, where she runs their Autism Support Group. To connect with Lisa you can email her at or follow her on Twitter @LisaDValerio

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