Valley Life for All column: Raising a Latina with autism
Valley Life for All
Editor’s note: The Post Independent, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities. Twenty-seven percent of Americans experience some disability. One hundred percent are a part of our community. Each has a story.
Meet Cecilia: She is a mother of an amazing young adult with autism. She is a powerful advocate and a model of courage and perseverance. Knowing that Latino parents with special needs children are especially isolated moved her to begin the support group La Esperanza de Emily. Here is her story.
At 12 months, Emily was saying a few words. At one and a half, she had tantrums all the time because she couldn’t express herself. I started thinking, “What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong as a mother?” Luckily, I found help and Emily was diagnosed with autism.
My life became all about Emily. I had tutors come help her with her regular homework plus music and any other subjects she was falling behind in. So her life was not easy. Thanks to that pressure, though, I see how she succeeded in school and why she is who she is right now: original, brave, enthusiastic, curious, strong, and an independent, responsible outgoing young lady.
When you have kids with special needs, sometimes not even your own family supports you. When I was fighting with the school district so Emily could get a better education, Emily’s father told me something that changed my life forever. He said, “Cecilia, she’s just a girl. Eventually, she will get married and have a husband who can support her. I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss over nothing.”
At that point, I understood: He is not going to support me. I am alone in this, and I was like a single mother.
I changed states and found what Emily needed here in Colorado. It was really hard to move, but I knew it was the best for Emily. When Emily eventually left for school in Utah, I was in depression for about a year. Finally, I said, “Cecilia, you need to stop. You need to do something for yourself and can do something for other parents.”
That is when I thought of the idea for La Esperanza de Emily — a support group for parents. Other parents are going through the same thing, especially when their children are young adults. Young adults are having a really hard time because society rejects them. They are afraid of them.
Emily has just finished her program in Utah. She’s very independent, and she has a plan for her life. She is planning to go to school, she wants to work, and she recently enrolled in a program for the school of ministry.
My plan was for Emily to return home, and we were going to work together on La Esperanza de Emily. She told me, “No mom, this is my life now.” So, I have to let her live it.
It’s not easy, but I support her from far away. Even though she has special needs, she is an adult. She deserves respect. That is part of La Esperanza de Emily — these kids need to be respected and treated with dignity.
Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. We want to hear your voice. Request a training or join the conversation at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or #voicability4all. Help us redefine the perception of challenge.
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“I feel I have the opportunity to go out and work for the people, and represent the people directly,” Wilhelm said.