A Mother Marks Her Son’s Progress by His Confidence and Clear SpeechJanuary 7, 2016
On Halloween 2014, Delquon Matthews refused to go trick-or-treating, terrified he would fall victim to ghouls and goblins. This past Halloween, dressed as Raphael, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he took to the streets with glee.
For a while, when Delquon did not understand a question, he answered with a rote mishmash of the words he had just heard. Now, he realizes when he is stumped by a question, and will reply with an appropriate “I don’t know.”
These are some of the ways that his mother, Charlene Wise, has charted her son’s progress. Delquon, 6, has autism, attention deficit hyperactivity and obsessive compulsive disorders.
“When he was young, my mother was the one who told me something wasn’t right because he wasn’t moving properly,” Ms. Wise, 27, said in an interview. “Certain stuff you’re supposed to be doing, he wasn’t doing.”
After receiving confirmation of her son’s disabilities, Ms. Wise brought him to occupational and physical therapists, and later, to speech therapy. Delquon did not speak until after the age of 4.
“I really didn’t know what to expect about the diagnoses,” she said. “I was kind of sad because I didn’t want him to go through what he was going through.”
Delquon’s newfound grasp of the world is a relief, Ms. Wise said, explaining that he used to eschew basic safety rules. He would take off his seatbelt while in a car, for instance, or race up and down the aisle of a school bus.
“Now he understands he can’t do that, it’s dangerous,” she said.
Ms. Wise’s mother had been helping to raise Delquon, but for the past year she has experienced migraines and seizures. Not only has Ms. Wise lost a helper, her mother’s health has become an additional source of anxiety.
“I worry about her even though she has someone staying with her,” she said. “I’m always thinking ‘What’s going on?’”
Ms. Wise has been able to rely on someone else for support: Delquon’s father, who was recently released from prison on parole after serving a sentence related to a drug charge.
“He’s trying to make up for all the time he’s missed,” she said.
Ms. Wise has a full-time job as a home health aide. Her client, Phyllis Atwood’s youngest son, Jamel, also has autism. Ms. Atwood and Jamel were the subjects of an article about The New York Times Neediest Cases fund last year.
Ms. Atwood’s knowledge has benefited Ms. Wise. Ms. Atwood told her about the Kennedy Child Study Center, an affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the agencies supported by the Neediest Cases fund. Delquon has been receiving services through the center.
“We became really close, with our sons having similar situations,” Ms. Wise said of Ms. Atwood. “She allows me to bring my son over sometimes and hang out with her kids. She understands that it’s difficult sometimes for me.”
Ms. Wise earns roughly a $1,000 a month, and gets $550 in Supplemental Security Income for Delquon. Her monthly rent is $808, while other expenses, such as her electricity and cellphone bill, total about $135 a month. The family’s food bill is about $400 a month, partly because of Delquon’s special dietary needs. He is lactose intolerant.
Catholic Charities used $325 in Neediest Cases funds for Ms. Wise to buy winter clothes for Delquon, who is outgrowing the ones he had.
Because eviction is a constant concern given her finances, Ms. Wise is looking for a higher-paying job. “I don’t want to have to worry about being behind, paying this here, paying this there,” she said.
She has taken a number of job-related exams, including a test to be a station agent with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Dealing with her son’s conditions, her mother’s failing health and the threat of possible homelessness leave Ms. Wise frazzled, but she masks her stress for Delquon’s sake.
“Sometimes I find myself getting really upset,” she said. “I’ll cry when I’m alone. I don’t know what to do sometimes. Sometimes you need time to yourself, but there’s so much going on, you don’t really have the time.”