Neil’s Story

Written by Neil’s mom


With much anticipation and fear, my eyes stared through the heated incubator looking at my son, Neil, born eight weeks early. I vividly saw his tiny, frail body and face covered with tubes and wires and surrounded by loud machines. I knew then that it would be a long journey for Neil.

Neil was in the NICU for 43 days. During the hospitalization, he was diagnosed with severe gastroesophageal reflex, apnea, bradycardia, respiration distress, organic acidemia, sepsis, jaundice, and conjunctivitis. I was never the same again. A month after taking him home, Neil was carried by an ambulance from the pediatrician office. He was in the hospital for a week for bronchitis.

Things seemed to settle down for a couple of months until I started to realize that Neil was far behind in his development. Something was not right.  My husband and I expressed our concerns to his pediatrician on many occasions. We asked her about his developmental delays and suggested that he may have autism. She did not seem to worry about it and said that boys were slower to develop than girls. We did not agree with her. During this time, Neil had no receptive and language skills. He did not respond to his name, point, or show any interest in anything. He did not show any eye contact. He liked to wander around the house and stare outside the windows.  He shook his head a lot and flapped his hands when excited.  He did not walk until he was 14-months-old. When he finally did, he only walked on his toes. He was in an awful situation.

Neil started with Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) at 18-months and showed no progress. We researched autism services extensively and it was not until Neil had already started attending the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children, that he received a PDD-NOS diagnosis at the age of two. We had encountered many personal challenges in the past, but not in our wildest dreams did we think our son would be autistic.  Autism is an incurable and unknown mental disability that affects 1 in 54 boys.  Our family was one of those statistics. Our Family FIRST interview with the Brent Woodall Foundation was bittersweet, accompanied with feelings of fear, sorrow, and hopelessness. Founder Tracy Bender understood clearly and sympathized with what we were going through. She reassured us that the Foundation would do its very best to help our son. There was an immediate connection between Neil and Ms. Tracy.

Neil started receiving therapy from the Brent Woodall Foundation the following week.  We were so amazed that after only one day of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, he was able to look up and respond to his name. Wow! This was something we could not achieve for the past two years.  We knew then that the Brent Woodall Foundation was the right place for Neil and that ABA was the best choice for treatment. The Foundation’s programs tailored to each child’s needs and abilities and it had a genuine, heartfelt, and child-friendly environment. We could never say enough about the hard-working staff! They were so committed and worked diligently day after day to make sure each child succeeded with his or her own unique challenges.

We had to admit, it was a grueling four years of our lives. Believe us, it was not a piece of cake. There were many tears and sleepless nights. Our family had to make numerous sacrifices and everything was pushed aside, including Neil’s sister.  We limited ourselves from visiting friends and family. We lived and breathed ABA- literally speaking. Slowly we learned and built a system for helping Neil. Thanks to the Brent Woodall Foundation, we were provided with the appropriate tools to help us teach our own son.

Neil was a trooper. He worked extremely hard at therapy and at home, day in and day out.  We maximized every resource the Foundation offered.  In addition to 40 hours a week of ABA for two years, Neil also started the Preschool Readiness Education Program (PREP) at age four. We loved this program!  It introduced academic and social skills practices to Neil and prepared him for a school environment. The program is geared for ages 3-5 and consists of a welcome and planning time, learning through movement, a themed language lesson, various learning centers, social skills, and circle time. Each semester includes various electives such as art, music, and yoga.

Neil loved all of his programs, including one-to-one intensive therapy, PREP, and summer camps. He thought of it as play-time all day.  The staff made the learning enjoyable. With the Brent Woodall Foundation’s support, Neil was able to transition into a regular education classroom without much disruption.

Neil’s personality now shines. It makes me laugh when he shouts out songs by the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber. We want the staff at the Brent Woodall Foundation to know how appreciative we are of their hard work, commitment, and dedication in helping exceptional children, most especially Neil. Thank you for giving Neil a fighting chance for the future and giving us hope.  We know that through the Brent Woodall Foundation, Neil was given the opportunity to build a solid foundation.  There will be more challenges and obstacles ahead of us, but we are determined to battle it one day at a time.

Ms. Tracy, we cannot adequately express our appreciation for what the Brent Woodall Foundation has done for our family and others. We can only hope you know that you have changed and shaped our lives in countless positive ways, for which we will be forever grateful.