#willworkforcaltrans Spotlight on Special Thinker: Diego

Saturday, April 12, 2014 / Leave a Comment

Today we get to meet Diego, son of Dori (autism mom & special education teacher, too!)

Check her out on Instagram @DORI510

“You need a sign," Diego informed me.  He was going to be 5 soon and had just slipped on the wet tile in the kitchen. “Make me one then,” I told him.  Famous last words.  I had wanted him to start writing his named but this stubborn child refused to use markers, crayons or pencils.

What started as a slip and fall evolved into a full blown obsession.  Diego makes signs for everything and out of anything.  It’s how we got him to start writing and reading.  For Sale signs started simple then started including details; red bike, fast scooter.  Anything that helped him become interested in words and their meaning.  Before you knew it, our house was covered in Post It’s with directions, exit signs, and warnings.  But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We were blessed with Diego in 2006.  I quit my job as a Special Education Teacher so I could stay home and spend the first few years with our child.  I imagined days of scrapbooking while the baby (or babies) played.  We’d bake cookies and sing songs together.  We would take long walks to the park so he could play while I chatted with the other moms.  You know, all the fun things that parents are supposed to do.  We waited so long to have kids, this was supposed to be IT! 

That first year and a half we hit most of the typical milestones- sitting up, rolling over, crawling, walking, but there were a few things that made me think- no language, fleeting eye contact, obsession with the blinds in our house. Open, close, open, close.  It felt like Autism. I didn’t want to say it.  I didn’t want to think it.  But it was there. Trips to the park were few and far between.  Diego was more interested in a tree than kids or playing.  His little chubby legs stumbling along, around and around while his hands simply dragged around the trunk.  Same tree every time. 

On a long car drive, I shared my concerns with my husband, hoping he would say I was worried about nothing.  That maybe I’m making too much of little things.  That’s not what he said.  He said, “That makes sense. Autism.  Yeah, I see it too.” Damn. Then then doctor agreed.  Damn. Then the psychologist agreed. Damn.  And two more after that.  Double damn.

Then it was time to get to work.  And work we did.  We had in-home services, OT, speech, and of course my own home therapy.  It was a full day of work for both of us.  It was the most difficult time of our lives.  I felt cheated out of his childhood.  What should have been easy was a battle.  Learning to use a cup was painful.  Saying words was agonizing.  Potty training was simply impossible.  Every little change in our routine triggered big meltdowns.  Our house had double locks for fear of him escaping.  We couldn’t go anywhere and he never slept.  It was exhausting.

He started preschool at 3 in a visually structured class and I decided to go back to work.  I just needed time to think about other people’s problems for a little while.  We also enrolled Diego in daycare with support services to be provided at the daycare center. We lucked out with a simply amazing team!  They worked at the daycare center for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.  With the school support, the daycare support and still visiting a speech pathologist twice a week, we were getting somewhere!  Words like “Legos, milk, food, snack, green, orange, mom, dad, more,” became part of his vocabulary.  Tantrums began to fade.  A little loving boy started to be understood.  He was finally able to share things with us!  

It was a whirlwind of emotions.  Time always seemed too short.  Days flew by.  But strong connections were made.  I called in favors when needed.  Working in Special Education, you never know who you’re going to meet.  That parent, she runs the local park for kids with special needs.  That other parent is a psychologist.  The program specialist; she’s BFF’s with a service provider I’ve been wanting to touch bases with.  When it’s your own child, everyone is fair game.  And lucky us- the people we reached out too wanted to help. They became our support network and us a part of theirs.  It was simply a blessing. 

Fast forward five years- Diego is now seven, and he’s simply amazing!  He talks non-stop about earthquakes and fault lines. He can build machines out of cardboard and make them work.  He’s able to get up on stage and perform in plays and dances.  Of course, he still has challenges (classroom noise is upsetting, personal space is always an issue, making friends is HARD) but we are focusing ourselves on the positive and counting the blessings he has brought us.

Diego is amazing to me.  Simply amazing.  He has friends of all abilities.  He understands what it’s like for his friends with limited vocabularies and reminds us, “When I didn’t have words, I was mad and threw things too.  She’s just mad.”  He takes dance classes and goes to Lego camp.  When people mention a country, he has to know if it’s above the equator or below.  He loves to see traffic signs from other countries and still points out orange construction cones when we’re driving around.  He’ll even tell you what kind of cone it is.  Yes, they have names.  Who knew?  With time, I’m praying and hoping that his social interactions become easier.  Although, I have a feeling when he’s an adult, it will be okay. 

Before Diego was born, I remember thinking, I just want a child who is average and has a fun life.  Well, Diego is certainly not average but he does have a fun life!  Give him cardboard, tape and markers and he’ll build you a trash compactor.  I know for a fact, that kid will work for Cal Trans.           


There was once a lazy dinosaur laying in the jumbo hot tub. And suddenly, a crazy UFO swooshed through the area. There was a navy radio. Weird? A lady appeared with a sword. What she did with it was she made dinosaur soup out of the dinosaur.

The end

^story written by Diego :)

WOW! Thank you so much for sharing Diego with us, Dori!!!! He is truly something special! :)

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