The road can be rough for the parent of a special needs child. Autism is one developmental disability that thrusts both the child and parent onto that rocky path filled with challenges. The journey’s ultimate destination is reached when that child begins to live a relatively functional and happy life.
Children with severe autism experience symptoms that are pronounced and face behavioral challenges that affect how they interact with others, learn, and communicate. They require help with the day-to-day functions that we take for granted.
Caleb Diaz of Flower Mound was diagnosed with severe autism when he was just 3 years old.
“He always had been non-verbal, not much for eye contact, and there was a lack of communication. When you called his name, he didn’t acknowledge you,” his mother, Veronica, recounted. “The non-verbal part is the worst. I never experienced the joy of hearing my son call me mom…even once!”
Caleb’s typical behavior was to pace back and forth, flap his hands, and create tantrums.
At that time, the Diaz family was living in Odessa, and the boy’s doctor was in Lubbock. Once Caleb’s diagnosis was determined, the doctor had little hope that Caleb would become verbal nor even perform an action as fundamental as becoming potty trained. The eldest of two neurotypical (non-autistic) siblings, Caleb required specialized attention.
When homeschooling failed to render improvement, Veronica joined a local Facebook club called “AUsome Moms,” a non-profit support group based out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The group is made up of moms who have kids on the Autism spectrum.
“They told me really good things about Flower Mound schools for special needs children,” Veronica said. That bit of encouraging news was enough to entice the Diaz family to pack up and move to Flower Mound.
By then, Caleb was in first grade. His parents didn’t hesitate to enroll him in Flower Mound’s Donald Elementary and its acclaimed LISD STEM Academy.
“Only a few schools through LISD have a communications program for autism like this one,” Veronica asserted.
Their special needs classrooms consist of one teacher, two teacher’s aides, and eight students. Part of the program is that students remain with the same teacher throughout grade school.
Enter Macy Winkle.
Macy entered Caleb’s life in 2017 when she became his teacher for the next four years. The educator would also come to have a profound impact on Veronica’s life. During their first meeting, it was evident to Macy that Caleb had a pretty significant language deficit.
“But I could already tell how amazing Caleb was by my first brief interaction with him,” Macy pointed out. Veronica found herself crying. For at that moment, both she and Macy knew this was exactly where Caleb was supposed to be.
“This mom had been told time after time all the things her child couldn’t do, all the goals he wasn’t meeting, and even things he may never do,” Macy said. “All these years, Veronica just wanted someone to acknowledge Caleb’s potential, not only focusing on his inabilities but showcasing his possibilities.”
That someone became Macy.
“Macy is Caleb’s guardian angel on earth,” Veronica gushed through her smile. “Four years later, people cannot believe that my boy had been so severely autistic. He just flourished with her!” Saving the best for last, she added, “He talks all the time now – and calls me mom!”
“Caleb has gone from a student who needed encouragement in order to communicate to one who tells jokes, asks questions, and initiates social interactions,” Macy confirmed. “The unbelievable amount of progress he’s made, and the confidence he’s gained, means the world to me.”
In turn, it means the world to Veronica that Macy changed the forecast of Caleb’s future from uncertain to looking pretty bright.
Now 11 years old, Caleb likes video games, swimming, and loves his dog Daisy. Though he’s ready to enter middle school in the fall, the trio will remain close.
“Mrs. Winkle saved me,” Caleb articulated.
Veronica agreed with her son.
“Macy will always be family, and we definitely will keep in touch,” Veronica said with conviction.
Macy shares their affection.
“This family holds a large piece of my heart,” she acknowledged. “I am a better educator because of their trust in me over the years.”
All of Macy’s classroom successes earned her recognition as finalist for LISD Teacher of the Year 2019-20.
American author Neale Donald Walsch once said, “Throughout this journey of life we meet many people along the way. Each one has a purpose in our life. No one we meet is ever a coincidence.”
photos courtesy of Lewisville Independent School District