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Jacqueline Laurita on Living for the Day her Autistic Son Speaks

Lee Clower

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Applied behavior analysis. Gluten-free diet. Specialized schools. Stem cells. Even camel's milk. The list of potential treatments, remedies, and supposed “cures” for autism goes on and on. How do you know what to believe?

It's been less than a year since my 3-year-old son Nicholas's autism diagnosis, but I feel we're in a race against time. One of the first things we learned is that early intervention is the key to healing. So I have spent hours and hours in bookstores, on my laptop, and in the offices of experts, collecting mountains of information. I keep it all in large notebooks, each labeled with a different topic: doctors, schools, therapies, meal plans. Early on, I remember crying to my husband, Chris, not knowing where to begin. I mean, I'm just a mom. What do I know?

Really, what I wanted was for someone to hand me a map highlighted with the path I needed to take. If I followed it perfectly, there would be sunshine and rainbows at the end, and Nicholas would be recovered. But there isn't one path, because all children—whether they are on the spectrum or not—are different, so their outcomes are different as well.

Our first goal was to get Nicholas healthy. He had dark circles under his eyes, wasn't sleeping well, and was suffering from digestive issues. We immediately started him on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, which could potentially help clean some of the toxins from his body so he would be able to get the most out of his therapies, which range from speech to physical to occupational.

Music therapy has been an amazing find for us. Early on, I noticed that when Nick listened to the songs on Jack's Big Music Show, Yo Gabba Gabba! and Blue's Clues, he would dance and smile. He loved to sing the alphabet song. But at the same time, he wouldn't talk. I knew music could make an impact. Now we have a music therapist who comes right to the house. She interacts with Nick by singing and playing the guitar, and he responds by filling in words. It's incredible to watch.

However, sometimes troubleshooting his recovery can feel like a frustrating—and even desperate—exercise in trial and error. Yet it's other people's success stories that keep us going. One mom told me that her child didn't speak a word until he was 5. Through applied behavior analysis, which teaches social and verbal skills, he found his voice. How exciting is that? My son can only say a few words right now. I don't live for the day that he speaks. I live for the day that he speaks to me.

Until that day comes, Chris and I will do everything we can for our boy. We'll keep grilling the experts. We'll keep Googling every potential lead. For the moment, we are his voice.