eLumanated Volume 2: Matty Speaks & Shines (A Story of Autism and Hope)
eLumanated showcases parents and professionals in their efforts to elevate the lives of students with disabilities. As a progressive therapy provider, we recognize that no two students are the same and that there are many different approaches to the same diagnosis. Join us each week to check out different perspectives and experiences related to raising exceptional children, organizations that facilitate their success, and insights into effective interventions.
This week, Kathy Borkowski, COO and co-founder of The Awesome Company, shares the story of struggles and triumphs her son faced after being diagnosed with autism. We invite you to check out The Awesome Company to learn more about this truly awesome organization that helps people celebrate the everyday and milestones in life.
Matty Speaks & Shines
by Kathy Borkowski
Our lives changed in 1999 when I gave birth to my first child, Matthew. My husband and I dreamed of all that life had in store for him–play dates, sleepovers, sports teams, academics, high school dances, and college. All of those dreams changed three years later when he was diagnosed with autism. The news was both shocking and disorienting, especially since we were told that he would have limited language function. I didn’t know where to begin.
When I first found out that I had a child with autism, I felt like there were a million different pathways. The list of options weighed on me. Should Matthew do ABA therapy? How about dietary interventions–gluten free, dairy free, no dyes? Music therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, equine therapy? Each type of therapy opens doors to different outcomes. What therapy or intervention may have the best result for my son? What will work best for my family? Nevertheless, I immersed myself in all the possibilities. I wanted to try everything and anything to see what would stick. This was a very overwhelming process for me.
As I navigated through my child’s autism journey over time, I became better educated about Matthew’s particular needs. We looked to find experts we could trust — learning what worked and what didn’t. When Matthew spent time with people who consistently pushed him forward, we would see positive results. We stuck with the therapies that worked and let go of the ones that did not.
The doctors initially diagnosed him with a speech delay. When he was two, all they could talk about was his speech development. He began early intervention and speech therapy at two. It took a year before he was formally diagnosed with autism. I felt relief in finally knowing why he was not talking and interacting with other kids. It was the answer that allowed us to explore schools and placements that we felt could help him continue to develop.
On the other hand, it was also a dark and grieving time for my husband and me. The news clouded many of the dreams we held for our son. It was not clear how his life would play out. We worried about how his delays would impact his life. However, we set our grief aside and decided that we would do anything to give Matthew every imaginable opportunity to be the best version of himself. We would advocate for, support, and provide him all the opportunities and assistance he required in order to grow, develop, and be a successful person.
Speech therapy has always been the key to his development. It has been the answer to so many questions for Matthew. After a year of speech therapy, he said his first word. We were at the zoo in the aquarium when he pointed and said “fish” as clear as day. From that point on, I carried around a notebook, and every time a new word came, I excitedly jotted it into Matthew’s speech notebook.
Shortly after Matthew was diagnosed, I discovered that Abby David, a highly-regarded SLP who specialized in autism cases, lived in my neighborhood. Her wait list was extremely long. I contacted her and somehow convinced her to take Matthew’s case. She came to our house at 7 am, prior to the start of her work day, and worked with him. She understood what Matthew needed and got him going in the right direction. Matthew is now 18, and Abby is still a huge part of all our lives. I will be forever grateful to her for getting up so early and helping to set the foundation for Matthews’s early speech skills.
As the years have progressed, speech therapy has evolved into more social skills training rather than simple word and language acquisition. There have been years where Matthew had three different speech-language pathologists each working on different IEP goals. They worked together for the common good of helping to improve his communication.
His current speech therapist, Tara Johnson, has worked with him for the past 7 years. When she came into his life, I felt grateful that she was a go-getter. She pushed him forward because she believed that he was capable, but that he learned differently. Through the years, Tara has tried many unique things with him. Some have been wildly successful while others, like perspective-taking, would work for a while and then regress back. This is the nature of his progress: two steps forward and one step back. But I believe that the years speech therapy and the amazing therapists have made all of the difference.
Matthew Speaks & Shines
In the beginning of October of this year, there was a fundraising walk for Autism Speaks in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. They invited Matthew to give a speech about the work program he is involved in. He practiced the words that he was going to say over and over. When it was time to go on stage, he spoke confidently and clearly into the microphone. Not only did Matthew deliver the speech as he had written it, but he even ad libbed appropriately when the opportunity to arose. I looked across the crowd and several of his speech therapists were in the audience beaming with pride. The kid who struggled to talk was now on stage speaking beautifully in front of thousands of people.
The path that he is on may look different than the one we had originally planned for him, but it is as brighter and more wonderful than anything we could have dreamed for him.
Kathy Borkowski is the COO and co-founder of The Awesome Company, an online retail company dedicated to employment of adults with autism. She has worked in the autism field for over 15 years. Kathy lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Glen, and is the proud mother of three boys, Matthew (18), Ethan (15), and Will (13).
The Awesome Company is a design studio based in Columbus, Ohio. It was founded by three friends (and awesome enthusiasts) Jacquie Mahan, Meghan Klein and Kathy Borkowski with a simple, powerful idea: awesome is everywhere. If you need a kick of optimism, you’ve found your people and your goods. It’s time to celebrate the everyday and the milestones in life.