In my mind I am very brave.
Dominic Maloni could not have been a better baby. He was quiet and easy going. In his first year of life, he met all of the usual milestones - sitting up, speaking his first words, walking.
At 13 months, he could organize his toy cars in a line from smallest to largest. He could even figure out a puzzle designed for a 4-year-old in just two minutes. Still, he wouldn’t look his mother in the eye or turn around when his parents called his name.
When Dominic was 21 months old, doctors diagnosed him with autism. That’s when Jennifer, who had given birth to her second son Dylan just five months earlier, began to panic. "Is this going to happen to the baby, too ?" she remembers thinking. "I was told it could but that it was rare. And Dylan seemed fine."
Around that time, Jennifer read a story in The Washington Post about Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Dr. Landa was conducting a research project aimed at early diagnosis and early intervention of autism. Part of the project involved studying the development of younger siblings of children diagnosed with autism.
Jennifer called CARD immediately to enroll 1-year-old Dylan in the study. During the initial evaluation, CARD therapists found that Dylan was showing "yellow flags" for autism. When he returned six months later for a follow-up appointment, Dr. Landa confirmed Dylan’s behaviors also fell on the autism spectrum.
For the Malonis, confirmation of Dylan’s autism caused a mix of emotions. But mostly, Jennifer said she and her husband P.J. finally felt a sense of direction. "They seemed so confident at Kennedy Krieger," she said. "I trusted them, and I trusted Dr. Landa."
Today, both Dominic and Dylan are enrolled in CARD’s Achievements program. Dominic also receives occupational and speech therapy as part of Kennedy Krieger’s outpatient services. They have made considerable progress. Both can speak. In fact, Dominic even makes requests, such as asking for a cup of juice. And, he always says "please."
They’re also making strides socially and emotionally. Recently, Jennifer saw Dominic touch his brother’s back. He then began to gently rub. It was one of the first times Jennifer witnessed true affection between the two. "It’s always going to be a struggle," she said. "But they’re making progress, and they’re happy little boys."