Latina Mom.Top Model.Autism Triumph: Christina Mendez
Posted: Apr 21 2014
While Christina Mendez may have walked a few more red carpets than most of us, she is just like a lot of us in many ways: she’s a mom. Mendez’s son is a teenager and he was diagnosed with autism in 1999. Mendez says in those days, not a lot was known about autism. And when she heard the autism diagnosis –it turned her life upside down. Mendez says the early days of an autism diagnosis can be quite frightening for parents. She says “during the early days of an autism diagnosis parents may feel everything from guilt to sitting asking themselves if something they did caused the illness”. In fact it is known today that autism is is not a result of anything done or caused by a child’s parents. Autism occurs due to genetic factors.
The diagnosis of autism happened rather inauspiciously for Mendez’s son. She says: “being a young mom – I didn’t know wasn’t aware – I didn’t know what to look for. So the way he was diagnosed was when we went to a preschool, and the school psychologist was evaluating him. She said – I think he has autism.“ Mendez tells us that the autism diagnosis threw her for a complete loop. She says: ”there was not a lot of information on autism at the time and I went from having a normal life- to searching for autism everyday, everywhere I could.”
When Mendez’s son was diagnosed, instances of autism were rare. In 1999, 1 in 500 boys received an autism diagnosis. Today that number is 1 in 58 boys is diagnosed with autism. (Girls have a lesser chance of having autism.)
Hispanics and Autism
Mendez tells us “early intervention means taking action between 2 to 3 years of age. That’s when you should start seeing symptoms if your son or daughter has autism.” And Mendez says Hispanics are often impacted by cultural factors when it comes to autism. Mendez says, “I’m told we as Hispanics tend to wait a lot longer for intervention when we get the diagnosis.” Earlier diagnosis and intervention, means a better outcome says Mendez.
The Next, After Diagnosis
Mendez says if your child is diagnosed with autism “the internet is your friend – there are so many moms out there who are willing to help. They may talk about vitamins, change of diet, therapies, etc. I also share on my blog. The organization “Autism Speaks” has a call center and there are people there available who can answer questions on autism.”
Mendez says ”it’s important to use all the resources available: to help you to be a mom through this emotional time. If you cry at night, know you are not alone.”
But Mendez is quick and emphatic to reiterate: “it does get better – I just want to say that I know how hard things are in the beginning.” In fact Mendez says during her initial diagnosis, experts at the time recommended that she place her son in a 24-hour home. Further Mendez was told he son was never going to speak, and that autistic kids didn’t like hugs and kisses.
Notwithstanding the things she was told early on however, today Mendez’s son is doing great! And he speaks Spanish, English, and sign language. (Sign language as Mendez was initially told he was never going to speak!)
And Mendez says with pride, “he actually loves hugs and kisses.”
A pamphlet is available on AutismSpeaks.org about what to do during the first 100 days of diagnosis in both Spanish and English. Click “tools” to access the pamphlet.