Hi friends. I am so excited to have a guest contributor joining us for the first time, Ms. Pam McGahey. Pam is not only an ABA Professional but she is a terrific friend and a grandmother to an incredible little girl, named Marley. Pam’s granddaughter is a beautiful little soul inside and out, and her love for best friend Cyanna is amazing. Marley has autism, but with the support of her loving family, Marley has everything she needs to succeed. Pam touches upon many things in her post, but the part that stands out the most for me, is the love and tenderness that she sees in her granddaughter every single day. Pam’s journey is awe inspiring and genuine, and I hope you enjoy her post.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Pam McGahey.
Marley was born February 8, 2013. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on. I was the first person to see her, and I was the first person she saw as well. This little girl changed my life in ways I can’t even explain. I was terrified that my daughter was having a baby at such a young age (20) but I was prepared to be there for them in every way I could. She seemed to be developing normally in every way, sitting up, making eye contact, babbling, repeating, walking, up until she was about 1. The happiest, bubbliest little girl you could ever imagine. She even said mamma and dadda! Then I began to see slight changes. She didn’t respond to her name. I suggested having her hearing checked. It was perfect. There was no eye contact. She wasn’t saying mamma and dadda anymore. She wouldn’t engage. She didn’t notice if someone was trying to play with her, she preferred to play by herself, and would do so for hours. I started to point these things out to my daughter, who brushed it off saying she would do it when she was ready. She started lining things up. Anything she could get her hands on. Toys. Fruit. Recyclables. Spices. I thought it was amazing until something interrupted her lines. Then there was a meltdown. Banging her head on the floor. Throwing everything on the ground. Then she would start the whole process again. If you touched even one thing in that line she would lose it. This started to be a problem. My daughter didn’t have any friends at the time who had children, and my best friend ran a daycare out of her house so I suggested that my daughter send her there so that she could socialize with other kids. Only a couple of days a week. She did really well there, but again, would not play with the other kids, did not engage, and would spend hours just entertaining herself, lining toys up and knocking them down, then starting all over. If anyone tried to help or fix the line, she would get frustrated, bang her head and her hands, knock them all down, start again. I was really beginning to worry. I had convinced my daughter to contact Early Intervention as I was worried how her missed milestones would affect her once she reached school age level. As a parent, you don’t want the start of school to be any more traumatic or difficult than it already is. I didn’t want her to be behind before she even started. At two years old she had no language, no way to communicate to us what she wanted or needed. I had to find a way to help her, and more importantly to help us find the tools to help her. Time was ticking and we needed answers.
I became a behavioral therapist in April 2015, after suspecting Marley could possibly be on the spectrum. She was two at the time. Trying to convince my daughter of what I saw was a difficult, as she is a believer that all children progress at a different rate, and that she would do things when she was ready, not when we wanted her to. I was working for Bose at the time as a Technical Support Specialist, working in a call center helping people troubleshoot and fix their expensive electronics. I was good at this job, but I felt like I needed to really help my granddaughter somehow and sitting in a cubicle wasn’t doing it. I have worked with kids on and off my whole life, from daycare, to running after school programs, to working in group homes with teens with behavioral problems, but I had never been around anyone with Autism. My kids (19 and 23) had never been around anyone with autism growing up. This was unfamiliar territory and I felt I needed to know everything there was to know in order to help not only my granddaughter but my daughter and everyone else who plays a role in this beautiful girls life. So I quit my job at Bose and applied for a position as an ABA therapist. Having previous experience working with children got my in the door and I began my journey working with kids on the Spectrum and it was the best decision I ever made.
In July of 2015 she was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was bittersweet. Not only did it confirm my suspicions but it terrified me as well. I already knew, but now what do I do? I had already learned a lot in the three months I had been working as an ABA therapist, but it’s a lot harder to implement it with someone you love. Constantly engaging her when she’s with me makes her very frustrated but is also affective. She works so hard just to do the simple things. Saying hi. Saying Bye. Making eye contact. Turning when her name is said. Using a spoon. Asking for what she needs. It breaks my heart to see her frustration when she tries to say certain letters of the alphabet. But I push because I know that’s what she needs. And she pulls away. Grinds her teeth. Cries. Her meltdowns are short but not violent at all. She’s the happiest little girl you could ever meet. But she is happiest being left to play by herself, in her own little world. And I stare at her and wonder what is going through her head when she’s staring at the leaves blowing in the wind.
Marley attends a preschool for children on the spectrum and it has been the best thing ever. She is progressing very fast and she amazes everyone with what she already knows but hasn’t been able to verbalize. She also has amazing support at home in her parents and the people in her life that love and care about her. Her biggest advocate has come in the form of a 6yr old, and their friendship is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. My boyfriends daughter Cyanna came into our lives when Marley was 2. Cyanna was 4 at the time and from the moment they met, they have been inseparable. I don’t think that Cyanna had ever been around anyone with autism, and at first she wasn’t sure how to play with her. But explaining to her that Marley’s brain just works a little differently and explaining that we have to just keep trying to get her to play has been helpful. 2 yrs later and they are the best of friends. Cyanna was one of the first words Marley ever said! She looks for her and when she sees her she has the biggest smile on her face. Cyanna always tries to engage Marley and has started to put demands on her just like I do. Because she knows if she does that it will get Marley talking. Or playing. Or responding. Cyanna has also benefitted greatly from this friendship. We have come across other kids with autism and Cyanna knows just how to play with them. Which to me is absolutely amazing. This little girl knows when someone is a little different and she doesn’t shy away from it. She goes right up and plays beside them and tries to engage them right away. I wish they would teach kids at a young age about autism and how they can help and be a good friend. It’s important for kids to not be afraid of people that are different. I hope that at some point in time this will be something taught starting at the preschool level so that no child ever feels alone or alienated. As a parent/grandparent the thought of your child/grandchild being left out is the most heartbreaking thing you ever have to deal with. I thank god every day that Cyanna came into our lives when she did and I’m over the moon at the bond that they have. A friendship that will last a lifetime.
I’m grateful that we have been given this gift in these beautiful little girls. I sometimes wonder if people with Autism are a little more advanced than everyone else, being able to focus on whatever it is that interests THEM and not US. Their ability to not be all wrapped up in the social things that go on around them but more interested in what really matters to them. My granddaughter is the most amazing little soul I have ever had the privilege of being around. She lights up the whole world. I’m amazed every single day by what she knows, how much she loves, and how she appreciates everything around her. I’m thankful everyday that Cyanna is a part of her life, that she can practice patience and understanding at such a young age. These are not things that are easily taught, but must be experienced firsthand. Most of all I feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to be apart of the autism community, to have been made AWARE of differences, and how to face challenges and make strides. Of the amount of support we receive and can give in return. Autism is something that will be a part of our lives forever. Having awareness, patience, love, and understanding will as well.
Marley and Cyanna meet for the first time