'It affects everybody': Local mothers of children with autism reflect during Autism Acceptance Month

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Posted at 2:24 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 17:59:47-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- April is Autism Acceptance Month, a month that raises awareness on the disorder that, according to the non-profit Autism Speaks, says one in every 54 children will be diagnosed with.

Autism can be a struggle, but it is one parents such as Carla McDonald endure for the sake of their children. Her 7-year-old son, Johnny, has autism.

“He’s just a really loving, happy little guy. I think Johnny loves people,” McDonald said, describing her son.

Johnny was a year and a half old when he was diagnosed with autism, a disorder that impacts someone's social, behavioral and speech skills.

She said she was not scared when a doctor made the diagnosis.

"I don’t care about what it is; get it down on paper, and let’s move,” McDonald described when she got the diagnosis, “so we can get him what he needs."

McDonald said Johnny is getting therapies and communicates with an iPad. She added that she hopes people understand what autism is, especially during Autism Acceptance Month.

“If April is a wonderful month to say, just kind of zoning and pay attention to this,” McDonald said, “I think that’s really good."

Aimee Darby agrees with McDonald’s sentiment.

“It’s hard to go through life every day with a child that needs support 24/7,” Darby said.

Darby’s daughter Eliza also had autism. She would have turned 9 years old on Monday, April 12, but Eliza passed away at the age of 4 from epilepsy.

“She was so happy,” Darby said. “She didn’t even know that she had to struggle a little bit harder every day than other kids."

In Eliza's memory, Darby started the Eliza Hope Foundation, an organization based in Virginia Beach that helps families who have children with autism through programs and services.

“It affects everybody in the family; it affects their friends, their neighbors,” Darby said.

The Eliza Hope Foundation is holding events throughout April to recognize Autism Acceptance Month. As mentioned, Monday would have been Eliza’s ninth birthday, and the foundation is holding a “Birthday Bash Raffle.” People can enter until 6:30 p.m. on Monday; tickets are $50 each and will go towards the foundation’s services, programs and scholarships. Winners will get one of a few cash prizes.

On Tuesday, April 13, The foundation is hosting a “Super Sibling Day,” where the siblings of children with autism will get a free cupcake at Gigi’s Cupcakes, located at 741 First Colonial Road in Virginia Beach. The event is from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.