Every morning Yadira Delgado, 22, drives 27 miles from her cramped Mott Haven apartment to Fairfield, N.J. There she drops her 4-year-old daughter off at the New Beginnings School. She gets back into her 1994 Honda Civic, unhooks the car seat that holds her 7-month-old son and places it in the passenger seat next to her. The clock reads 7:33 a.m.; she will wait in the car until 2:30 p.m.
This is her new life. Delgado and her husband left their home in Puerto Rico 4 months ago in order to provide their daughter with a better life. Their daughter was diagnosed with restricted behavior autism two years ago. Her daughter has a need for over stimulation, which causes behavior problems linked to the need to constantly feel the texture of objects and/or the vibrancy of colors.
Autism is a neural disorder which is developmental in nature and has unknown causes. Most experts believe it has a strong tie to genetics, but theories range from the duplication of chromosomes at the genetic level to the vaccination of children in their early years . A level of impaired social interaction and speech most often characterizes the disorder. Repetitive behavior is present in many cases. These signs all begin before a child has reached 3 years of age.
In 2007 a report from the epidemiology departments from Drexel University School of Public Health, the University of Pennsylvania and many other institutions noted that an estimated one to two out of every 1,000 children will develop autism. However, the data was not representative of the overall population so the numbers may underestimate the autism problem.
The number of reported cases of autism increased dramatically in the 1990s and early 2000s. This increase is largely attributable to changes in diagnostic practices. But for families like the Delgado’s raising an autistic child presents its own specific challenges.
Delgado, a high school graduate with one semester of college, first noticed the behavior when her daughter was 2 years old. Her daughter did not babble like other children her age. She seemed to be only interested in touching objects with textures on them.
“It’s mostly sensorial in nature, when she sees a color or something new she has to touch it,” said the 22-year-old, who had to drop out of college because of her pregnancy.
Her husband works for a small U.S. bank that is opening branches in Puerto Rico. He attempted to get her services in their hometown of Cayey, Puerto Rico only to find that they are non-existent.
This forced the family to move two hours away to the northern costal city of Bayamon, Puerto Rico were Delgado enrolled her daughter in a rudimentary program.
The school only offered basic services until the age of 5. This placed the young mother in a predicament. Should she give her daughter the services until age 5 and then provider for her at home or should she make one of the most difficult decisions of her life and bring her to the United States.