I am the mother of a six year old autistic child named Jonathan. Being a first time mother to Jonathan has been epic, dynamic, and rewarding all at the same time. The news of his diagnosis was devastating for me at first, but since then I have learned to navigate the highs and lows that come with our daily lived experience.
Through the recommendation of a family member, I was introduced to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Early Head Start Program which connected me to Montgomery Early Learning Center and the Center for Autism. Through these resources both Jonathan and I were embraced by supportive staff who taught me how to access tools and advocate for Jonathan—and together we built a team of allies for Jonathan.
Little did I know but through my parenting Jonathan, I was gaining the knowledge for my next career path. One year after Jonathan’s diagnosis, I began volunteering as an advocate, mentor, and public speaker before presidential cabinet members, and working with city council members to campaign for quality early learning for special needs children. Today, as we are still fighting an uphill battle, Jonathan is happy, heathy and thriving every single day. I am thankful for Jonathan’s team and I will continue to pay it forward as I commit my life to other parents and caretakers who are searching answers and support.
Rachel H. is a lifelong resident of West Philadelphia and a Family Navigator for the West Philadelphia Action for Early Learning, a Drexel University-led initiative based at People’s Emergency Center.