By Alicia Mesa
My son Pablo, we call him Pablito, has a mischievous smile and a great love for music (he's partial to country music and Spanish pop). He also has an autism of the most serious kind.
At 17 years old, he remains nonverbal and locked in a cycle of self injury so severe he needs to wear limiters on his arms to prevent him from hitting himself with too much force, and a helmet to prevent brain injury from hitting his head on hard surfaces (he goes for the hardwood table, granite counter tops, door-frames, or any hard surface he can find).
He requires intensive round-the-clock care, usually involving two or more caregivers at a time. Things like getting him to eat, showering him and brushing his teeth are extremely difficult. It takes me a good 30 to 40 minutes just to work up the courage to shower him, as he engages in self-harm and aggression for the duration of the shower. Getting him to eat a meal often takes over an hour. We also recently found out he has GI issues, which may be causing pain and exacerbating these behaviors, and we hope we can at least address those. We have not found any intervention that has provided meaningful improvement in his dire condition. Last year, TEN different ABA agencies refused to provide intervention services to my son due to the level of specialized care he requires.
“Unless you live with someone like Pablito, you cannot understand the suffering of that individual, or the crushing responsibilities imposed on family members.”
Unless you live with someone like Pablito, you cannot understand the suffering of that individual, or the crushing responsibilities imposed on family members. The entire family suffers. A simple errand like running to the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk requires a Navy-Seal-like level of planning. To be honest, when I don't have help at home I sometimes wonder if I can survive another day.
I'm also left with a million questions. I want to know what went wrong with his brain development. I want to find treatments that can ease his horrific suffering. I want to know where he can live when we can no longer care for him. I want to know if his two typical siblings have increased risk for bearing children with autism. After years of asking these questions, I have yet to see meaningful answers that help our family.
When I heard about the formation of the National Council on Severe Autism I felt a flicker of hope. Finally, an organization that takes seriously the devastating toll caused by severe autism. Our autism is not the quirky college professor or accountant, or other people who can function day to day. What my beloved Pablito suffers has absolutely nothing in common with what others call "autistic." And it's horrifying to see the word autism trivialized like this condition is some sort of choice or natural variation, when obviously in cases like ours it's a disability of the most extreme nature imaginable.
“We are too busy, too broke, and too tired to even raise our hands and engage in the conversation. But I will support the NCSA and its efforts to shine a light on the world of severe autism.”
I can’t drive to Sacramento or fly to DC to advocate for my son's needs and shine a light on our plight. We are too busy, too broke, and too tired to even raise our hands and engage in the conversation. But I will support the NCSA and its efforts to shine a light on the world of severe autism, and help bring fresh answers for our families. I cannot sugar-coat this: families like mine are desperate. Romanticizing autism has got to stop. I love that NCSA will never trivialize our reality, or invalidate our pain.
Alicia Mesa is the mother of three children, one with a severe form of autism. She and her family live in Freedom, California.