Effects of Autism on Parents

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WESLACO - Having a child diagnosed with autism is tough on a child, but parents are also affected by this life-altering diagnosis.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke with two mothers who have children with autism.

Susie Perez is 4-year-old Mason’s mother. Like many little boys his age, he is as energetic as they come. He likes throwing stuff around - over and over - and jumping on his mother’s lap unexpectedly.

Unlike most children his age, Mason has not spoken a word, Perez said.

He's diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism. Perez said she's never heard her son call her "mommy."

"I've never heard that before," Perez said, with tears in her eyes. "I know it's going to happen."

She said he was about 18 months old, when he was diagnosed. She didn't understand autism.

"It was really, really, really hard," she said. "I didn't know where to go, I didn't know anyone with a child with autism - I didn't know. All I had was the internet, and the internet, if you type autism it shows you the bad side."

Mason is Perez's first son. She said the diagnosis quickly erased her illusion of having a baby. She grieved for several days, she added.

"I got on my knees, I prayed, I was upset, I was happy, I was upset again," Perez said "Why me? Why my son? I was literally on the floor - on the floor! I didn't sleep, I was crying all day - all day, all night. I don't think I've ever cried like that."

Maria Cordero understands exactly what Perez is talking about. She has three sons with autism. They're grown now and graduates of Weslaco High School and Weslaco East High School. She said that feeling of grief is something she'll never forget.

"You feel like you didn't get the child you were waiting for," Cordero said. "When you welcome that baby, and you see that he's not getting to those milestones, that's when you feel like something died, something that you had been waiting for and never got."

Each mother said they experienced guilt. They wondered if they had done something wrong during their pregnancy, such as not eating the right foods or supplements.

Each also said their children were at first misdiagnosed. It was their mother's instinct that kept pushing them to find out what was happening to their children.

Cordero's first son wasn't even diagnosed properly, she explained, until after her second son was born and diagnosed. By that time, he was already 11.

She said getting this diagnosis is tough, but the sooner parents know about it, and get past the feelings of guilt and denial, the better it is for the child.

"As soon as they are evaluated and diagnosed, they need to start all of their therapies." Cordero said. "Start giving them what they need. This is never-ending and you just can't get tired."

"There's an entire community out there that needs to be made aware that  that these children are also a life that matters," Cordero added, "just like yours and mine."

Perez and Cordero said they needed to find other parents they could relate to.

Perez lives in Brownsville and Cordero in Weslaco. They couldn't find a support group to join in their respective cities so each started her own.

In Brownsville, Perez co-founded the support group "Familia Azul." It now has 250 members.

"We get together, we talk about our kids, we laugh, we cry, we have play dates," Perez said. "We invite each other to birthday parties, you know, sometimes that's hard when you have a kid with autism. They don't have a lot of friends. We try to expose the kids to things like that, and when it's a few of us together, it's easier."

Cordero, in Weslaco, founded "Autism Support Group of Weslaco." She knew parents needed an outlet.

"I believe in God - a lot," Cordero said. "I believe that He gives us a life of purpose. I feel this has been my purpose, because I’ve been able to help parents who were morally on the ground, with extreme depression, because of an autism diagnosis. I think God has used me for this."

Cordero is also now a regional coordinator for the Partners Network, a state organization that works to empower and provide resources for parents of children with disabilities.

These mothers were interviewed in different cities at different times. Still, there were many commonalities.

Each talked about her grief, but also about her self-improvement because of their children's diagnosis.

"For me, autism made me a better person, a better mother, a better professional, a better sister, daughter," Cordero said. "It taught me about patience - a lot of patience. I didn't have that before. I had it for my children, but not for others. This came and shaped my life."

"You can't let autism take over," Perez said. "I took it by the horns and said, 'You know, we're going to do this and he needs me and I need to be informed, and if I can't get help anywhere, I’m going to go and find it.'"

These mothers said their children are different but by no means incapable of great achievements.

Cordero showed CHANNEL 5 NEWS proof of it. She held up dozens of her son’s free-hand drawings and paintings - unlike any other and created from their own imaginations.

It's the positive that both mothers choose to focus on, to fight on, one day at a time.

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