On February 13, 2002 a little angel named Gamal was born. The third of our children, he was embraced by all with love and joy.
Gamal’s development was completely normal. He was a healthy and happy little baby, just like his older brother and sister. He lifted his head right on schedule, laughed with pleasure, and was always aware of everything that was happening around him. He walked on time and never presented any problems regarding his alimentation; his speech was normal for a baby his age, and he always responded when we called his name, sharing laughter and precious moments with everyone. There was nothing in his development to worry either his doctor or his family.
Nevertheless, when Gamal turned 1 year and 10 months, his verbal language began to diminish; we attributed this to laziness, as he was the youngest in the family and provided with everything even before he asked. By the time he was 2 and 2 months, based on the fact that he was not improving, the pediatrician recommended and audiological exam, which was promptly done. This test determined that Gamal’s hearing was fine. At this point, the word autism loomed, and we went to a pediatrician-neurologist for a screening. This doctor’s only finding was a very strong bond between Gamal and his mother. Accordingly, he recommended an Early Stimulation Center, where Gamal was evaluated and diagnosed with a speech delay. Our child was then 2 years and 4 months old, and the single autism feature he presented was his speech delay (lack of verbal language). His visual contact was and always has been excellent. In June, 2004 Gamal started his speech therapy as well as psicomotricity therapy (a type of play therapy), twice a week, for 45 minute sessions. Approximately at this age (2 years and 4 months) Gamal started to display some unusual behaviors. He no longer wanted to be with other people outside the family and he cried frequently. He had just started school and oddly enough, was doing fairly well despite his lack of speech.
By December 2004, Gamal had not shown any improvement in his use of verbal language, although he began seemed more comfortable with other members of the family –grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But now the tantrums began, along with hair pulling and biting. During Christmas 2004, my sister in-law Jackeline talked to me very frankly and directly, saying that Gamal either suffered from mild to moderate autism or at the very least, had a severe speech delay. Jackie is the mother of a very special boy, Alex, who also has autism. She added that was not going to allow things to continue in the same way, and reminded me that her son, –Gamal’s first cousin, now enjoyed a normal life, just like his twin brother. I bless Jackie, who had worked so hard to improve her son’s situation, and had the courage to approach me about my own child’s problem.
Jackie, who lives in New York, moved heaven and earth to get an appointment for Gamal at one of the best centers to evaluate Gamal. Gamal and I live in Dominican Republic, a small country located in the Caribbean, sharing an island with Haiti; we would not be able to get the necessary services in our native land and would have to go further afield. We understood that New York City was a good place for Gamal to be evaluated. Gamal’s evaluation at NY led to a diagnosis of a “moderate level of Pervasive Development Disorder (P.D.D.) within the autism spectrum.” The recommended treatment was intensive ABA therapy, plus occupational therapy and speech therapy. For us, this was like the earth just open under our feet! Everything was falling apart, for how were we going to cope with this? Remember, we live in an underdeveloped country where such services are not obtainable. At this point, Jackie, with her usual blessed timing, heard about “The Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children.” She knew its director, Tracy, personally, because at one time Tracy had treated her son, Alex. With her greatness of heart, Tracy responded to our call. Her staff, Irina and Carmen, who happened to be at NYC at that moment, gave Gamal an entire week of ABA therapy, under the counseling of Jill Weynert and Cristine Lopez. Here began the great work of Tracy and her Foundation, Gamal’s miraculous rebirth. As soon as we arrived home in the Dominican Republic we encountered the hard and dark reality that there was not even a single soul here who knew about ABA, It was now March 2005, and Jackie –knowing our desperate situation- contacted Tracy again, and from that moment on, our lives have seemed blessed. Tracy decided to continue treating Gamal in Texas. We spent an intensive week with Tracy and her team, including Irina and Carmen, Meredith (speech therapist), and staff members Penny and Carley. After a grueling yet uplifting week, we returned to our home with new expectations and above all, hope. In the meantime, we managed to find someone in the DR who under my supervision worked with Gamal on the ABA therapy. One month after our first trip to Texas, we returned, and met another wonderful person Vicki graciously offered us the use of her home, so that Gamal and I could stay with her. Vicki runs a school, which was where Gamal received his therapy. Vicki with her big heart and good feelings showed me again how many little miracles the Lord has for us. During this trip we also met a new therapist, Jamie. This trip was better than the one before and Gamal was learning faster and more easily than ever. On July 2005, for a third time, we were received in Texas and it was an unforgettable trip, Gamal learning so much it was amazing; Vicki turned her home into my home, becoming my good friend in Texas -, but the biggest event was yet to come, Along with her beautiful baby girls, Tracy came to my home with Jamie and Carley to work with Gamal, in order to get to know his environment and family, and to do a group work with all of his therapists in the country. Those were wonderful and unforgettable days, and since then our son has advanced so much… There are no words in this world that can describe and express our deepest thanks to Tracy and the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children, because it is due to them that our son is walking towards a brighter, fuller future. Thanks for your kindness and generosity and, God bless you always, and allow you to continue your work around the world.
Sincerely, Patricia Subero de Atallah