“I’m the mom from the suddenly ‘viral video’ of my daughter Taylor saying her first word, ‘Mama’ (I’m also known to go by Briana). I have received an outpouring of support from thousands of people across the world and gotten hundreds of friend requests from people wanting to follow our story. I would like to take the time here with the company that first noticed our story, Love What Matters, and give you some insight into what led to the video seen around the world. Here is our story:
My husband, Jason, and I met in August 2009 at a local community college. I was 19 and he was 20 and he sat next to me in a history class – which I realized I signed up for by accident.
I meant to sign up for World History II but had actually enrolled in U.S. History II. I had already paid for the class and knew I wouldn’t get a full refund, so I figured- there is this really cute guy sitting next to me and I really like History so what the heck, I’ll spend the $400 on the class and stick with it. A month later we went on our first date. Fast forward to May 1, 2010 and Jason asked me to marry him. Obviously, I said yes. Then a year later on May 7, 2011 we got married at a beautiful venue in Union Grove, AL called Lazy G. We danced the night away with our friends and family with a massive pot luck dinner and of course, lots of cake.
Just 5 months later, on October 29, 2011 we found out we were pregnant.
I had a wonderful pregnancy (once I got past the morning sickness phase) and Taylor made her entrance into the world on June 28, 2012.
We named her Taylor Briley Blankenship – Taylor is my mother’s maiden name and I wanted to honor her parents because they filled my childhood with so much love and support.
The early days: Taylor was a happy, chunky, loving baby. She progressed rather quickly and was actually walking by the time she was only 10 months old.
At around 15 months old we were visiting with family when someone made a comment that Taylor’s constant compulsion to spin in circles wasn’t ‘normal’ and that we needed to talk to her doctor. I was taken aback by the comment and offended that anyone would suggest that there was something ‘wrong’ with my baby. We pushed the statement aside as just some rude comment from someone that hasn’t seen a baby be a baby in 20 years. At age 2 we were concerned because Taylor still hadn’t developed speech. She would hum, jabber, and squeal but she wouldn’t mimic sounds and she wouldn’t try to form words. Our attempts of teaching her sign language were met with frustration meltdowns or complete disinterest from Taylor. We spoke to a doctor and they assured us that all kids have their own time line and Taylor’s timeline was just different. After all she was a happy, affectionate child that maintained good eye contact and didn’t shy away from holding your hand or asking for a hug (in her own way).
At around 2-and-a-half-years-old, we enrolled Taylor into a local daycare in the hopes that getting her around kids her own age would make her speech kick in but as you know, it did not. At 3-years-old, her dad and I made the decision to put her into speech therapy. Her pediatrician still didn’t seem concerned that she wasn’t speaking yet but agreed that she should be in speech therapy. Her dad and I kept pointing to things ‘normal’ she did that would reinforce the idea she didn’t have autism. Her doctor had us do a hearing test to make sure she didn’t have hearing loss that would be causing the speech delay. The test came back that she had a bit of hearing loss in her right ear but not enough to prevent her from developing speech. Around 7 months later we started the process of early intervention with our local school system. After 3 months of evaluations we were forced to confront the fact that Taylor had Autism. I felt like a total failure as a parent. I had no idea what Autism was and I was convinced that it was something I had done to cause my baby to have this. Like many parents, my husband and I grieved over the ‘lost’ future we had dreamed up for our daughter. The only time you ever seem to hear about Autism (when you aren’t part of the community) is the negative such as viral videos of a child having a sensory meltdown in the store. You see all the judgmental and awful comments blaming ‘poor parenting’ not caring to look into their world and see what is actually happening. We love her so much and feared for her future in this often mean world with the keyboard warriors and the bullies we hear so much about.
At 4-years-old, Taylor began preschool, speech therapy, and occupational therapy at one of our city’s public elementary schools.
We found out she actually has a knack for letters and numbers and can do the alphabet by herself with the use of magnets. She’s also great at spelling. We started to feel hope again seeing her progress at school. The school started using a communication device program called LAMP with her and found that Taylor really enjoyed using it. So we started saving money to purchase an iPad and the LAMP program so she would have her own that she could take everywhere.
In March of 2017 I entered a radio contest at a local station. When I went to the event to pick up my prize I was stunned to find out they were giving us an iPad mini. I started crying right there in front of the station manager and the morning show staff (see a trend here?) one of the guys ran around the table and hugged me and I explained through my tears what we were going through and that the iPad was EXACTLY what we needed right now. We had already been saving to purchase the iPad and the software so since we were given the iPad we were able to immediately purchase the program and a protective case for the iPad. Taylor was able to start learning the LAMP program full time which made it possible for her to progress into kindergarten without repeating her Pre-K year.
The summer between Pre-K and Kindergarten we enrolled Taylor into a gymnastics class at a local gym. It was a rough start but I wanted to give it a shot so we could do some ‘out of the box’ therapy to help her with body awareness. She definitely was not patient in the beginning and that caused a lot of ‘attitude’ when needing to constantly corral her and redirect her to the skill training for that day. After a few classes it started to become her routine and had a much easier time transitioning to the gym each week. Now she loves going and as an added bonus these classes stopped her tiptoe walking. We continue to go every week and that’s where we were going when I stopped to take the video.
Now Taylor is finishing up her Kindergarten year. She has some of the most amazing teachers and therapists that help her every day. I get texts, pictures, and videos of her throughout the week that show her progress. For the first time, Taylor has friends. Her school has been the best thing to happen to her and us. We took Taylor to the book fair at the school a few months ago and when walking through the halls there were kids from all different grades coming up to her, excited to see her and Taylor would hug them or give them a high five. It did a lot to sooth our hearts knowing that she is so clearly loved by her peers. Her teachers have rallied with us to get her the additional support she needs and we all continue to work every day on Taylor’s communication. Taylor is also finally doing some sign language. She knows Dad, Mom, Please, Thank you, and I love you. She also communicates a lot with gestures like taking us by the hand and leading us to what she wants and pointing to it or signaling for her to pick her up so she can get the item herself. We read every night – usually stories about the Mickey Mouse gang.
The day she said her first word we were running late on our way to gymnastics. I pulled into the closest fast food restaurant to grab her something that she would actually eat before we had to go to class. She started giggling in the back seat then I heard her say it. I whipped around and asked her ‘Did you just say Mama?’ and she laughed then said it again!
My heart started racing and I put my car in park right there in the drive thru, grabbed my phone, and recorded the video you’ve seen. We were both so excited as you can probably tell in the video. We have been building to this moment for over 5 years. After I finished recording I put my phone down and then it hit me what just happened. I broke down in tears, put my car in drive and went to the window to pay and get my food. I could tell by the look on that poor cashier’s face that she desperately wanted to ask what was wrong with me but I couldn’t talk other than to say thank you for my food. I pulled into a parking spot in the restaurant lot and got Taylor’s food and drink ready for her while I called my husband, Jason, and told him what just happened and got Taylor to say it again so he could hear it through the car’s Bluetooth. He was stunned and asked her to say it again and she did. It was seriously one of the best moments in our lives.
Through all the years of therapy and doctors we had basically accepted the fact that Taylor would never speak. We would get judgmental looks from people all the time when a stranger would try to talk to Taylor in public (like the grocery checkout lane) and we would talk for her. At first we would try to explain to people that Taylor has Autism and she is non-verbal but most of the time people would just hear the non-verbal part and get that look on their face that clearly said ‘you’re a bad parent because your 3, 4, 5 year old can’t speak yet.’ Finally we stopped trying to explain to people what was happening and I had to learn to ignore the judgmental looks. After all, who cares what some stranger you will never see again thinks about your parenting abilities. We know we are the best parents we can be and we have a daughter that loves us more than anyone else in the world. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter. We have gone without our own health insurance to make sure hers is paid and to pay for all her doctor’s bills. I’ve given up a dream job in order to move back to Alabama so we can have the support of Taylor’s grandparents and aunt and uncles.
The thing that you don’t hear about Autism (when you aren’t in the community) is how much stronger it makes your family. Every success is celebrated 10x as much because it took that much longer to get there. We don’t take anything for granted when it comes to our family. Over Mother’s Day weekend, Taylor started saying ‘Dada’ as well. Taylor and other people like her, are considered non-verbal until they can successfully communicate verbally with full sentences and communicate wants and needs. These are our first huge steps toward this goal and I can’t wait for the day when I have to purchase a new seat belt EMT warning cover that no longer has to have to have the phrase ‘Non-Verbal’ anymore.
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