April is Autism Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion, we are shining a spotlight on the stories of individuals and their families who make our work possible, and who provide hope and support for the autism community. Our thanks to everyone who keeps this community strong, supportive, hopeful, and compassionate. We celebrate and appreciate each of you- this month and throughout the year.
All parents want to know their baby is on track developmentally. Are they making enough eye contact? When should they start crawling? Franco was hitting all of his developmental milestones right on schedule- smiling, crawling, walking- except for one: he wasn’t talking.
“That was a red flag to us that something was wrong,” Frank, Franco’s dad, says. Adds Dana, his mom, “He was making sounds but not words.”
Franco’s pediatrician was concerned as well, but suggested giving him a few more months, since some children start talking a little later. But when he reached 18 months without words, the doctor suggested an appointment with a developmental pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for an evaluation, along with early intervention.
Franco was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and immediately began physical and occupational therapy, followed by speech therapy. Now at age 4, the words are flowing, and Franco and his therapist are working on forming complete sentences and responding correctly when asked a question.
He attends pre-kindergarten four days a week in a mainstream school where he’s building social skills and learning to follow directions and focus on the task at hand — the same as his typically developing peers. He excels at reading and easily absorbs new material, especially if it’s about one of his favorite things: country music, trains or the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We are a huge Eagles household and we’re appreciative of everything CHOP has done for our family,” Frank, says.
“Participating in the Eagles Autism Challenge is a way we can pay that forward,” Dana, says. “We can spread awareness of autism, and raise money to research and better understand it.”