April is Autism Awareness Month across Canada and the United States. To help raise awareness and mark the occasion, TD Stories is sharing the journeys of two colleagues with autistic children and how the diagnoses of their respective children changed their lives.
Learning that a child has been diagnosed with autism is a life-changing moment for loved ones and caretakers, one that can cause a range of emotions and reactions.
For William Reid and his wife, Milagros, the journey started when a speech therapist came to their home to work with their oldest son William, who was three years old at the time.
But it was while working with William that the therapist happened to notice the Reid's younger son, Ethan, was exhibiting behaviors that aligned with autism.
"It completely caught us off guard," said Reid, who is Head of Digital Sales for TD Auto Finance (TDAF) and resides in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
"We had rarely heard of autism. Our first reaction was more fear, anger, shock and being upset. Looking back, it (the therapist raising the possibility) turns out it was one of the best things anyone could have done for us. But we were just shocked at that time."
The Reids began the testing process for Ethan three months later, and after some time, their son was officially diagnosed with autism.
Even before the official diagnosis, the family started seeking out the right school for Ethan and providing him with access to speech therapy. Reid said it is the family's primary goal to ensure Ethan can continue to thrive with a combination of education, therapeutics, and other supports.
Reid says that being non-verbal hasn't stopped Ethan – who is now 14 years old – from showing off his personality and expressing himself in other ways.
"Ethan taught himself to swim at six years old," Reid says. "He's the strongest kid I've ever seen. His balance is amazing."
Reid says that if he could give advice to anyone going through a similar journey, it would be to focus on the positives, do everything in their power to help their children be the happiest they can be, while ensuring they have all the supports they need to achieve their goals.
Since Ethan's diagnosis, Reid has spoken several times at events both within TD and in the greater community, sharing the story of the family's journey with Ethan and how they've learned and grown together.
"There's nothing better than folks telling you that they were inspired by your story and your journey," Reid said.
The red binder
After two years of tests, meetings, and doctor appointments, Jennifer Popkey finally received the diagnostic information that she and her family had been seeking about her then three-old-year old son "T."
"The developmental pediatrician handed me this big red binder filled with medical information, organizations, and resources, as she shared my son’s diagnosis," says Popkey, a Talent Partner for the Bank's Diversity Sourcing team in Toronto.
Popkey said she appreciated the diagnosis because it helped give her family a direction, and helped them focus on doing what was best for their son.
"I wanted to know, what is the next step?" she said.
"He is still this awesome kid. He approaches the world differently. What could we do to help him shine?"
The diagnosis meant a lot of adjustments for both T and his family. The family quickly started to look for different ways to help him succeed and help him fully realize his potential.
In those early years, T went to speech and occupational therapies and developed social and stress management strategies at school to complement his strong academic skills.
Popkey says in the early days after T's diagnosis, she wondered about what his life would be like growing up. Then, one day, a chance encounter with another mother with a similar situation inspired her.
"A few months after his diagnosis, while still adjusting to my new daily life, I joined a local 5K run. I met a wonderful mom who introduced me to her 15-yr-old chatty son who had the exact same autism spectrum diagnosis as my 3 ½ year old."
"Her ease, his animated conversation and their openness meant the world to me. It was an incredible peek into what was possible, a clear and wonderful image to look forward to instead of the disconcerting fog of not knowing. "
Now 17, T has excelled in school and has developed a passion for computers that his mother says he hopes will turn into a career.
"My role is to help him shine," she said. "We don't have to follow a traditional model. We have different ways that we can assess and support people so that they can reveal their potential and blow our expectations out of the water."
The autism community is diverse in experiences and perspectives. Views around self-identification are no exception. In the wider community and here at TD, we've learned that some people with lived experience call themselves autistic, while others say that they have autism, live with autism, are on the autism spectrum, or have been diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder).
We acknowledge these diverse views within the community and, while we will use identity-first language throughout the month, when referring to specific individuals, we will respect the individual's perspective and use the terms with which they self-identify.