Neil and Rama
Laying the Groundwork for Rama to be the Best He Can Be
Neil has flown in the military, is a Veteran, attended an Ivy League school and is now a contract Project Manager for the Air Force. But his main accomplishment, he says, is being a father.
Neil landed in San Antonio in 2009 and describes San Antonio as a great place to settle down.
Like many families, Neil finds it hard to balance work and home as a single parent to two young daughters, Nadia, 13, and Veda 8, from his first marriage. They are proud big sisters to their stepbrother, Rama, who’s 3 and has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
“I have a lot of plates spinning, but you have to figure out how to make it work for the welfare and well-being of the children. I’m not a lone warrior. Rama’s mother and I each contribute our half for Rama to grow and succeed. You have to communicate, collaborate and cooperate for the rest of your life.”
Rama was born prematurely in 2018 and was in the neonatal intensive care for six weeks. As he grew, he was showing all the signs of being on the autism spectrum. The indicators were there—repetitive behaviors, decreased social cues, and others.
They knew to be vigilant. Brothers are more genetically predisposed to autism, and Rama has two stepbrothers who have it. So, they lived in a home that included children already receiving services and therapy.
Early regiments and therapies are critical.
“Don’t put on blinders. Respond early. Prepare. Participate. My heart goes out to families starting from scratch. I had two stepsons on the spectrum, so we were familiar with the indicators, treatment and the United Way-funded program through Autism Community Network to support us.”
Their mission is to maximize the potential of children with autism by providing early diagnosis and educating and empowering the family and the community to support them.
Rama’s formal autism diagnosis was half completed when COVID-19 swept the globe.
Pandemic or not, intervention occurs through child-led, naturalistic play, which is supported by the child’s caregiver and filmed for retrospective reflective analysis. Parents and children work together guided by a certified behavior analyst as coach to ensure that autistic young children are happy, healthy and ready for school and life.
This is the goal for all children across Bexar County, and United Way’s Ready Children Impact Council supports families’ abilities to nurture, protect and prepare their children to reach their full potential.
Zoom was a good tool, and Neil and Rama’s mother, Tracy, record various playtime therapies. Everyone can see the progress.
“You don’t feel so desperate and out of control. It’s easy to feel alone and isolated, but there is a robust network to help guide you.
We’re not a Leave it to Beaver “normal family,” with a dog or cat and a picket fence. Today, families and communities are complex and nurturing children is not one size fits all.
Being caring and loving matters in the type of people our children turn into. The care you show them and what they’ll show others is very important to me.”
When together, Neil’s family enjoys playing on the trampoline and with their dog. Rama loves blocks, Hot Wheels, games, going to the park and dancing. And boy do they dance! Dad, Rama and the girls get their groove on with dance simulation videos and really cut a rug!
“Rama is happy, joyous, so affectionate (unlike the stigma). He’s not emotionally distant. He loves to laugh and hug. I go into withdrawal if I go too long without hugging him.
My hope for Rama is that we have laid the groundwork, done the work and set him up to be the best he can be.
We have rich assets: a family support system that works, community assets, and a school system that harmoniously contribute to find the place he fits in the world.”
Neil is committed to being an advocate and sharing his story with others. He says if he can help another family, another dad, to know there are solutions, then it’s definitely worthwhile. Waiting until the school system addresses the behaviors–to find support and therapy–he feels you’re missing out. Just reach out, he says.
“If you have children with special needs, if you’re struggling, you don’t have to go it alone. You can pull from a full breadth of services out there. And if donors don’t support these programs, if they don’t exist, if they are not funded, if the lights are out, help wouldn’t be possible.
If you’re supporting a charity, or an organization like United Way, you’re supporting me, and I am very grateful. I want Rama to be happy, healthy and successful—even though it may take a different path and support for that chance.”