Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee

David (7), Autism, Davidson County

"The closest school and services in Mexico are a day long drive from where we lived. We would not be able to get the services for David if we went back to Mexico."

  • A Student interview of parent's Perspective
  • Posted on 7/11/2013

When David was only a year old his doctor noticed that something was wrong.  While most children were close to saying or already saying their first words, David was not making a sound.  At two-years-old, he was diagnosed with autism.

When David was younger, he would bang his head against walls and objects around the house and at school.  When he was angry or needed attention, he hit himself.  Though hurting himself is no longer a significant issue, he still has problems controlling his behavior.  Overall, David has good relationships with his peers, only “acting up” when he is upset or wants attention from people he does not know. Maria says that David can be very helpful, and when she asks for help he helps her.  She often does not even have to ask.  If David sees Maria cleaning around the house, he grabs a sponge or broom and follows her lead. 

David attends a local school, where he spends half of the day in a regular classroom with an aid and half of the day in a special education classroom.  Because David’s speech is limited and Spanish is spoken primarily in his home, communicating with teachers is often difficult.  Fortunately, David’s special education teacher speaks Spanish.  Although she speaks to all of her students in English and tries to encourage David to do so, she will respond to him if he speaks in Spanish.  She makes an exception for David because she wants to encourage any communication.

While David divides his time at school between two classrooms, his day is also divided between school and therapy.  Maria picks David up during school and has a long commute to his therapy appointments five times a week.  The long commute, combined with the amount of therapy David requires, takes up a great deal of Maria’s time and energy.  This arrangement is made more difficult during the summer when Maria has to take all of her children to therapy because they are not in school, and no one can watch them.

Maria does not understand a lot about the types of therapies David receives.  Because she speaks very little English, she doesn’t ask a lot of questions. This is a common problem for her. All of David’s classes and services are conducted solely in English, and it is nearly impossible for her to communicate with David’s teachers and therapists.  David’s Spanish-speaking teacher often acts as an “in-between” for Maria and the faculty at David’s school.  Maria also enlists the help of an English-speaking friend to communicate with David’s school and therapists.  Sometimes even her seven-year-old son helps with communication as he speaks some English.

Despite the challenges, Maria is pleased with the services David receives.  She can see the changes in David and the improvements he has made.  David’s teachers and therapists have helped David make great progress, but Maria is especially grateful for his teachers.  They let her know what they work on with David at school so she can continue to help David at home.

It was about eleven years ago that Maria and her husband left Mexico to work and save money in the hopes of doing better for their family and saving up enough to buy a home.  As they planned on only staying in the U.S. for two years, they left their four daughters with family in Mexico.   However, after David was born and diagnosed, they made the difficult decision to stay in the U.S.  Though Maria and her husband wanted to return to Mexico and have their family all together, they knew they had to stay for David.  Disabilities are stigmatized in Mexico, and Maria did not want David to face criticism from people as a result.  Furthermore, “The closest school and services in Mexico are a day’s drive from where we lived. We would not be able to get the services for David” and all services would have to be paid for out-of-pocket.  This predicament would add to the complicated nature of their situation, as it is difficult to find work in the area of Mexico where they are from.

There is so much poverty in Maria’s small, countryside hometown that life as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. seems more bearable.  Back home in Mexico, there are no cars, electricity, or places to work.  Despite doing better in the U.S., Maria’s separation from her daughters takes its toll.  Her daughters often tell her that they want to be with her, but Maria cannot leave the U.S. to even visit them because she does not have the appropriate documents to return.

Maria and her husband left Mexico when their youngest daughter was only two-years-old.  The last time Maria spoke to her, her youngest daughter said, “Mommy, I want to meet you in person. I don’t remember you.”  Maria often feels stuck and unsure of what to do.  She receives no emotional support from her family or friends back home.  Her sister blames her for leaving, and people often ask her, “Why aren’t you here? You don’t even work. You should go back to Mexico and be with your kids.” They do not understand why she stays here.  They do not understand David’s condition.  Maria says, “Yes, I am guilty for having left my kids. But children with disabilities in Mexico are called crazy, bullied, and laughed at. They are left to fend for themselves. I don’t want that for David. I stay here so David can have a better chance at a better future.”

Although their situation in the U.S. is better, Maria and her husband face many obstacles, often as the result of not having the appropriate documentation.  Previously, her husband had a job as a truck driver and traveled for work.  Recently, her husband became ill and had to have surgery, leaving him unable to work or help around the house.  His inability to work has caused great financial stress.  Maria is so busy with David, his services, and her other children that she does not have the time to find a job.  She mentioned an interest in working for Mary Kay, as she wants to earn some money to support her family and maybe even have chance to connect with other adults.  The only socializing opportunity Maria currently gets is going to a parent support group for parents of children with disabilities. 

Because of the lack of documentation, Maria lives in constant fear when transporting David to and from services.  She fears being stopped by the police, as she has no legal documentation, no permit or license, and no alternative form of transportation.  Her biggest fear is that one day she will be stopped, receive an expensive ticket or even be taken to jail.  Maria is afraid of what would happen if she were taken away from her children.

Although she is happy with the services David receives, Maria wishes one thing would change.  Maria would love for David’s therapists to come to their home.  David has to miss many therapy sessions because Maria’s car is unreliable and there is currently no money for gas, as Maria’s husband has been sick and is unable to work.  In addition to being more convenient for Maria, having the therapists come to their home would be beneficial for David and their family.  Maria says, “I would love for the therapists to come to our house so they can see what David does at home.  That way they can know what our needs are and help us.”

Above all, Maria wishes she could change the situation with her daughters in Mexico.  “Sometimes I wish I had wings so I could fly between here and Mexico and be with everyone in my family when they need me,” she says.  She dreams of getting a permit that would allow her to travel between Mexico and the U.S. or a permit that would allow her children to travel from Mexico and live with their family in the U.S.  Although Maria struggles with the distance and her family’s situation in the U.S., she never forgets why she is here: “There are many days when I feel like ‘closing up shop’ and going back to Mexico because my children need me there.  It feels like I’m wasting my time here, but I know I’m not.  I’m here for David.”

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