Chicago man says having autistic child is rewarding

June 17, 2012 7:32:52 AM PDT
Sunday is a day to honor our fathers. For one Chicago-area dad, being a father to an autistic daughter has a very special meaning.

As an advocate for different autism organizations, Lou Melgarejo wants more dads to get involved because having a child with autism is challenging and rewarding.

"I have a few goals," Melgarejo said. "One of them is to try and end healthcare discrimination against children on the spectrum. I think that's something that we all, as a society, need to understand that the money we invest in them when they're young is going to save us tenfold when they're older.

"Another thing that I really want to do is raise awareness in the Latino community to let Latin families know that it's OK if you have a child with special needs."

Melgarejo is a father of three. His oldest, Bianca, is 6.

"We started to notice that she had some issues or some challenges like around 14 months or so," he said. "She's vocal not verbal. She has a lot of echolalia. She repeats stuff that she sees on TV or phrases that she hears every day."

When Melgarejo and his wife were told that Bianca was autistic, there was denial and anger at first.

"We had struggled for a long time to have kids," he said. "So Bianca being our first born, a friend of ours told us that he suspected she was autistic and our defenses went up. I felt like it was almost insulting in a way."

After coming to terms with his daughter's autism, Melgarejo got involved with the Autism Speaks organization helping with Latino issues.

"There's a bit of stigma in all honesty, particularly among (the) older school mentally," he said. "Latin society can be at times pretty misogynistic and what happens is when there's an issue with the child and it could be autism, it could be really any number of conditions with a child, the first reaction for a lot of older generations is to blame the mother."

As for Bianca's future, Melgarejo wants simple things.

"When you have a child with special needs, one of the unfortunate things that happens with I think men and women alike is that when a child is born, right away you see their whole life mapped out for them," he said. "You see them going to school, you see them graduating you see proms. Tthen when special needs, something like Autism, is added, you realize that those dreams are your own and they may not necessarily be a path that your child is going to take.

"But for me, when I think of goals for my daughter and things that I want to see,I want to see her say I love you and mean it and I think that's something that a lot of parents take for granted. For me, I want to see her saying I love you because she understands it and not because she's echoing it back.".

For more information on Autism Speaks, visit www.autismspeaks.org


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