By: Vanessa Menendez.
Typically, I’m the type of person to research everything on subjects that I am unfamiliar with. Recently, I was asked about Autism. What is it? Is there a cure? How is it caused? Questions I am sure many have asked. As a parent who has raised a child with Downs-Syndrome some assume that I have a huge database of knowledge in regards to all subject matter pertaining to Special Needs. I wish I did. I don’t. But what I do have is a hunger for knowledge. I am not a doctor. I just want to know, like many people, if I have a child with Autism what do I do? Is there any advice another parent could give me to help my child?
A few months ago at a friend’s Stella & Dot jewelry party I was introduced to a beautiful woman, Karina Mera. Of course, talking about jewelry and our massive shoe collections we became instant friends. With our second Mimosa in hand a beautiful little girl, Mia Isabella, came running through the kitchen and started grabbing all the pretty jewels. Like any little girl the sparkles overwhelmed her with glee. Karina sweetly took Mia’s hand where she placed a few strawberries and sent her on her way. Minutes later, Mia reenacted the events prior… then again, and again.
Unlike Downs-Syndrome, Autism does not have a clear aesthetic. I did not think there was anything different about a gleeful little girl grabbing sparkly jewelry. In a recent conversation with Karina she said, “Mia is Autistic. Parents get lost. Kids are normal and then instantly get in a sort-of bubble. Your little girl forgets to say Mommy and stops looking in your eyes. This is so new Doctors can’t tell you what to do. I googled 24/7. What is wrong with my daughter? I want her to say I love you.” In the same breath she offers some advice with immense positivity. “Every child is different. Never compare your child to others. It’s like the doors are all locked and you can’t find the key. I was so lost. You are supposed to know what to do. My husband didn’t know what to do. All those mothers who feel lost… I want to be with them to go through their haystack to find their needle. Because every kid can!”
According to Karina, “1 out of 88 children are being diagnosed and Autism beats all diseases combined. This is such a sensitive subjective, but I believe it is an epidemic”.
By the end of our conversation, I had a lot to think about. The staggering numbers, the hard work and the unconditional love it takes to be a parent of an Autistic child. Karina gives advice to parents who have children with Autism, “It is not easy. Be involved!” Karina helps to organized Charity events, Walks, and Fundraisers. Karina recently, competed for the title of Mrs. California America. She said she wanted a larger platform to be an encouragement for parents of Autistic children. “It was for my daughter”.
“I have no choice. It is my daughter’s future.” She works 8-5 everyday and therapy after that. “Even a super mom needs to be healthy emotionally. My family is a team. We have meetings to decide what we are going to do for Mia.” Working with UC Santa Barbara’s Kogel Center, “We found that Mia responds to reinforcements. The whole family has to be proactive. But remember, it may not work for all children.” It has taken two years but now, Mia says, “Mommy”. You could hear the overwhelming joy in Karina’s voice.