Santana was just 2 years old when he was diagnosed with autism. He was nonverbal and could get aggressive when he became frustrated. His parents, Juan and Lydia, were both in the military, so Lydia left the service on a hardship discharge to focus on caring for her son. She didn't know anything about autism but was determined to learn everything she could. It wasn't long before she recognized signs of autism in Santana's younger sister, Senovia. A diagnosis confirmed that she, too, was on the spectrum.
Lydia and Juan made it a priority to get treatment for their children. Although Juan was still deployed and wasn't always at home, he and Lydia were united in their commitment to help their children be as happy and independent as possible. They were also determined to be proactive and prepare for what was ahead rather than react as problems came up.
When Santana was 4, Juan attended one of his special education meetings for the first time and decided to get educated so he could advocate for his son. Juan and Lydia both became experts on special education laws and fought to get Santana the services he needed. By the time he was 12, Santana was having major issues with rage and became aggressive at school and at home, especially toward Lydia. Even his sister, Senovia, was afraid of him. The school district tried to accommodate Santana's needs by moving him to a different middle school, but the problem only got worse.
By this time in their lives, Juan and Lydia had both taken what they learned about autism into the workforce. Juan was working for the Brighton Center as an advocate and Lydia as a Registered Behavior Technician. They were frustrated because, while they were able to help other families with their children, they felt they couldn't help their own. Then, Santana's school district suggested the Autism Treatment Center as an option.
Santana enrolled in ATC's school in January 2020. Even with the change to online learning at home early in the pandemic, Santana's behaviors improved and he was able to work on academic goals. It was just a few months ago, though, that it hit Juan just how much progress Santana had made. Recently, Juan and Santana went to get a haircut together and Santana was able to sit through an hour appointment, then wait another 20 minutes for his dad to finish his haircut. It was the first time they had both been able to sit at the same time without Juan providing positive reinforcement every minute or so.
Afterwards, they went to the grocery store, something Santana had not been able to tolerate in several years, even before the pandemic. This time he helped carry items and put them on the counter. And, he didn't need reinforcement to reward his good behavior. "He is generalizing the skills he learns at ATC and showing who he really is," says his father. The biggest indicator of Santana's progress, though, has been the overall sense of happiness for the whole family. He can now self-regulate and when he does get upset, he recovers much faster. He is very loving and likes to cuddle. He especially likes being tickled. "We know 100% that the changes have been because of what he has done at ATC," says Juan. "For years I said, 'I want my son back'. Several times over the past few months, I've found myself saying, 'there he is!"'.