Meet Sonia Carrillo and her granddaughter Bella, who is on the autism spectrum. On Twitter, Sonia describes herself as a "mom, proud gramma & DCowboys super fan and most recently autism advocate for my grandbaby." In this profile, she reflects on Bella's experiences in the classroom, how autism awareness shapes her tight-knit Hispanic family, and more.
Tell us about yourself and your granddaughter, Bella.
My granddaughter Bella was diagnosed ASD with ADHD/ADD combined about 2 years ago. She's high functioning and verbal but with some autistic characteristics (OCD, no eye contact, doesn't like to be touched, likes to twirl, circle around a lot, very challenging communicating with her, she didn't develop her speech until almost 3 years old, etc.). I'm a widow, widowed in 2007 with 3 children, all young adults now. My middle daughter, Bella's mom, was a teenage mom; had Bella at the age of 17. As most teenagers, she wasn't quite prepared. Rachel, my daughter, lived with me until Bella turned about 4 — she has another child and this child's father. Even though Bella doesn't live with me, I still take care of her off and on and I follow up on any issues at school with her.
What was the journey of your granddaughter's autism diagnosis? Did you face any challenges along the way?
Yes, there were many doctors that needed to sign off or arrive at the same diagnosis which was challenging. My daughter is at school/work and I work so it was hard to schedule. Since Bella's biological father is not in the picture, we do not have any medical history to go by for him so there was genetic testing and all sorts of questionnaires and blood tests to be done.
We love how you proudly represent #TeamBella on your Twitter. What resources and support systems have been most valuable to your family?
It has mostly been family. We are a large Hispanic family. Family first is our motto. My granddaughter's pediatrician is actually the same pediatrician that had tended my children till they outgrew his office. He and his staff are very supportive. The school she attends has also been supportive, though I have found that for high functioning ASD diagnosed children it is a battle. Most teachers want to label them as spoiled, high strung, moody or even combative. Bella's teacher, this year, was proactive in learning about autism on her own outside of the school. I find our public educational system lacks the proper training tools for regular teachers that have students like Bella. She is "section 504" which is special education, but she is still mainstream. So due to that, she does not attend a special ed class where maybe the teacher in this class would be able to identify triggers and/or meltdowns. I'm hoping her next teacher is amenable to know and learn about Autism as last year's teacher.
Tough question: What has been your proudest moment while raising Bella?
My proudest moment with Bella, is watching her in her graduation cap/gown this year moving on to First Grade. We were very worried regarding her learning capabilities and still are. It's a long road ahead to seeing her in another cap/gown that will be a more significant moment for her and us.
What are your hopes for autism awareness, and also for Bella's future?
My hopes are that Bella learns that Autism doesn't mean she's dumb or less than anyone else; that she learns to live her life in the best way she can.
My hope for autism awareness is for people in general to have a better understanding about children; to not be too quick to judge them as "problem" children. My Bella is beautiful, wonderful and her heart is full of joy and love; she just has a hard time showing that to people.
What advice do you have for other families affected by autism?
Don't give up and always always be your child's advocate first and foremost in every situation and in every environment. Fight for their right to learn in the right environment and give them all the tools to your disposal to be able to lead a successful life. That's the hope of any parent for any child, autistic or not.