“I may never hear the word ‘Mama’ again from my son,” Amber Quinn remembers thinking.
“It was hard to go on.”
The young mother was recalling the weeks of “grieving” after learning her 2-year-old son, Aidan Michael Yeckley, was on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed with classic autism, moderate on the spectrum, but low functioning.
She was told there was little room for learning language and that she shouldn’t expect to be able to interact with her son in traditional ways.
“They said, ‘You can teach him phrases to say – sort of like training a dog or a monkey – but to relate and communicate and be in a shared environment, that was not something that was likely to happen,’ ” she said at the family’s Cole Road home in West Carroll Township.
“I was just shell-shocked,” she continued.
“All the breath had been taken out of me.”
Quinn and Aidan’s father, Lucas Yeckley, were told to take time to grieve the loss of their son and the life they imagined for him.
"I went through an extreme amount of depression,” Quinn said, remembering crying for days, hugging her son, sobbing, “Please, come back to me. Don’t leave me.”
Then one day, as she sat crying, Aidan went into the kitchen and came back with a towel. He looked her in the eye, and wiped her tears.
“I realized then: He’s here! He never went away,” Quinn said.
That moment, Quinn said, changed her life. The tears continued to flow, but they were tears of joy. She knew that Aidan was not lost. She just had to find a way to reach him.
Like many parents of children with autism, Quinn resolved to be her son’s best advocate. She began researching the autism spectrum online and through the library.
She says she found autobiographies by those with autism to be the most helpful. Celebrated author Temple Grandin says she thinks in pictures, so Quinn and Yeckley started using pictures to communicate with their son.
“We took pictures of everything,” Quinn said.
They started repetitive lessons with four pictures: Aidan, mommy, daddy and Hunter, Aidan’s brother. Aidan could immediately point to daddy and Hunter, but could not identify himself or his mother.
With practice, he began to get all of them right, every time. More family members were added, and the process continued until Aidan could immediately identify all the photos.
“That was the first time I realized: This kid can learn,” Quinn said. “I just have to figure it out.”
While she began searching for local programs familiar with autism, Quinn did her own research. She read about different strategies and therapies and started using them at home to see what worked and what didn’t.