A Family’s Autism Journey
Anirban and Dipanwita Maiti, Corace Drive, are the parents of three children, Ahan, 12, Aleina, 7 and Amaya, 3. Aleina is autistic. She was diagnosed when she was almost 3.
“Our first thought when we got the diagnosis was ‘Why is this happening to us?,’” Anirban said. “Fortunately, we found a lot of resources.”
Anirban cites Parent to Parent Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that matches parents of children with disabilities or special needs.
“Parent to Parent found kids like Aleina and parents like us,” he said. “It would have been much harder with no services, or with no people to talk with.”
The experience has brought the Maiti family closer.
“We grew as a family,” Anirban said. “Aleina’s therapist said there was always a possibility that another child might have some of the same issues, but also that a sibling might work for her. We have good days and bad days, but knock on wood, we’re not just surviving, but thriving.”
One of the benefits Aleina brought to the family was the effect she had on her older brother. Ahan Maiti is a sixth-grader at Jefferson Middle School. Below is his account of living with his sister.
anuary 18, 2016. Magee Women’s Hospital. My sister was just born. Her name is Aleina, and she was born with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. Aleina has nonverbal autism.
She was as cute as a puppy! We took family photos which is what we usually do when a big event happens. Obviously, this was a very big event! We brought her home. We took great care of her. We celebrated all her firsts—Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and many more.
Her very first Halloween costume was a butterfly. I was Olaf! I had a great first year with her. We played and danced and did all the stuff that a 6-year-old and a newborn girl would do. The biggest celebration was Aleina’s first birthday. We celebrated a lot, since it was a major milestone. We still hadn’t discovered Aleina’s autism, but we would soon.
We had a street party for Halloween, I was Captain America; Aleina was still a butterfly. I still have the costume now. In fact, I have both costumes. We had fun, and we still do!
So far, we have talked about Aleina’s life. Now I will talk about the discovery of her autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She was 2 years and around eight or nine months old around then. This was about two years ago.
One day, when I returned from school, we all went to a doctor’s appointment. We went there because we were wondering about her delay in speech. He did some tests on her, I don’t know what, because I was not there with her. He said she is autistic, and I had no idea what that meant. I asked him, and he said that she can’t talk. I thought that meant she would talk at the age of 5, but no. We came back, curious what that meant.
I looked it up, and I realized something is different with her brain, which is not allowing her to talk. I told my friends about her autism, but no one listened to me. Only said okay. That hurt my feelings. She is a wonderful child who is suffering from nonverbal autism! I did not like that, only my teacher paid attention, no one else did.
Her third birthday was coming up, and we had fun on that. We now knew that Aleina had autism and we had a journey ahead of us.
Aleina switched schools, from Sts. Simon & Jude to DART, which was in Baker Elementary, for her autism. DART is a special school for children with autism. They do therapy on the weekends and I got to see! I tried to help them; they were nice.
On June 6, 2019, a new baby was born, another sister! Her name is Amaya! When we got home, Aleina was furious and sad. She depends on her mom a lot, and when she is not there, Aleina gets sad. I tried to comfort her, but it didn’t work. Slowly she realized that is how life is. She stopped crying and went with the flow. Two nights later, Amaya came home with us, and we all had fun!
We dance, play and sleep together! We love each other. We will always be together.
Amaya was having fun at home. In fact, she was having a blast. That is what I want to see! Aleina and Amaya having fun playing with each other. I love them!
During the pandemic, Aleina’s therapy moved to virtual Zoom meetings. Virtual sessions are challenging for a kid with special needs. She struggled with the change. It was difficult for her. She adjusted and adapted.
Things are going much better now. Aleina is productive with her time, but she won’t let her disorder stop her! She learned to write her ABC’s and spends a lot of time with Amaya. Maybe in the future, she might become rich or famous, or maybe even talk! I don’t know what the future will hold for me, but I think she will be something, rather than nothing. Let’s not go into the future too much because the journey doesn’t end here. This journey will last for my entire life! I am looking forward to seeing what she becomes next! She spends her time with her mom and plays with me, my dad, and Amaya. This journey continues. I may even write another book! All that I know is that she will become a very successful girl in the future.
No matter what your family will always be with you. Aleina has taught me how to take care of little kids very well.
Resources for Persons with ASD
Parent to Parent Pennsylvania The staff at Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania are all parents of children or adults with a disability or special need. The organization offers you emotional support by matching parents with a volunteer peer supporter.
Allegheny County Office of Developmental Supports Provides information about services and resources for persons with a diagnosis of autism who live in Allegheny County. Those who meet eligibility requirements may also be registered with ODS and receive Supports Coordination.
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services The DHS Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations’ ASERT website provides resources for Pennsylvania residents of any age who have autism or care for a person who has autism. Among their services are ASDNext.org, designed specifically for individuals on the spectrum, particularly teens and young adults. The website features a social calendar of community events around the state, blogs by young adults on the spectrum, and a community page where individuals can connect with others.
*Story edited to change intro to identity-first language for autistic people.