“It was just gut-wrenching. We were totally lost.”
Kris Castro candidly recalled when she and her husband first received the diagnosis of their third child, Johnathan. The news came only 18 months after Kris and Jason Castro had uprooted their family, which also includes Johnathan’s two older siblings, Aubrey and Dave Anthony, from Dallas-Fort Worth to Spring City, Tenn.,more than 800 miles away. Jason had accepted a new job at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, and the family was beginning a new chapter in their lives.
Just as they had gotten their feet wet with a new set of friends, neighbors, schools and jobs, they realized that this new chapter was apparently just an abridged version. Johnathan, then age 2, was diagnosed with autism. At the time of his diagnosis in July 2010, he had regressed developmentally from his previous 20-word vocabulary to completely nonverbal. He wasn’t speaking a word.
“We had a silent child who would lay under his highchair and roll his toy car back and forth for hours,” said Kris with tears in her eyes.
After receiving Johnathan’s diagnosis, the family almost immediately began receiving services from Tennessee’s Early Intervention System. Because the home visiting program at Siskin Children’s Institute included Spring City, the Castros also were able to receive early intervention and home visits from an Institute employee with special training in autism. Through this relationship, they were told that Johnathan would be an ideal candidate for a special program at the Institute, which worked with children who needed improvement in social skills, language and general interactions.
“When we toured the Early Learning Center,” said Kris, “my husband and I knew before we even left that we had to enroll our son there. If I had to drive from Spring City to Chattanooga five times a week, that’s what I would do.” And for a month and a half, that’s exactly what she did.
Soon after enrolling Johnathan in the Early Learning Center-Downtown in October 2010, Kris and Jason learned that they needed to live in Hamilton County for Johnathan to continue to receive services from the Institute after he turned 3. Not even two years after they moved from Texas, the Castro family of five picked up and moved to Middle Valley, a suburb of Chattanooga. Jason continues to commute to Spring City every day for work so that his younger son can attend the Institute.
As the months went by, it became even more evident to Kris and Jason why they sacrificed so much to send Johnathan to the Institute. A little more than a year after he enrolled in the Early Learning Center, Johnathan’s vocabulary began to “explode,” according to Kris.
Especially on February 14 – Valentine’s Day.
As Kris dropped her son off at the Early Learning Center, she told Johnathan she loved him. Accustomed to the silent response that normally followed, Kris couldn’t believe her ears when her son, who not too long ago had been completely nonverbal, answered back. “I love you, too, Mommy.” This was the first time Kris had heard her son tell her he loved her. For Kris, no chocolates or roses could have matched the gift that was her son’s words that Valentine’s Day.
Hear Kris tell about that special "I love you" moment.