A Nonverbal Toddler with Autism and a Mom Determined to Connect

Posted on November 19, 2018 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Read This Latest New York Times Neediest Cases Profile

Xavier, 4, who has autism, sleeps in the living room of his grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment with his mother, Janet Guillen, and his uncle with schizophrenia. The crowded circumstances could prove trying for even the calmest family of four.  But with a nonverbal little boy thrown into fits of frustration when no understands his wants and an uncle who speaks to people only he can see, the living situation often becomes overwhelming. 

Life was not always so hard.  Ms. Guillen and Xavier’s dad, Felix, easily made ends meet by living with Felix’s mother, Ms. Guillen’s work as a cashier at Whole Foods and Felix’ office job he held while attending City College.

Hints that not all was well began when Xavier still said nothing, not even “mama” and “dada’ by his first birthday. 

“One day he said ‘go’ and we were so happy,” Ms. Guillen said, recalling her temporary relief. 

But Xavier never spoke again until, one year later, he said “hot.” That was it.  No more words.  Ever.

Ms. Guillen has been out of work for a year and a half because of the demands of caring for Xavier, New York Times reporter Remy Tumin writes in this latest Neediest Cases Campaign profile.

“After seeing specialists, Ms. Guillen learned her son had autism.

‘I didn’t know what that was,’ she recalled.  ‘And then I was in denial on top of that.’”

Fortunately, Ms. Guillen found Kennedy Children’s Center, an affiliate of Catholic Charities NY and one of the first agencies in the nation to successfully educate young children with special needs.

Although Xavier does not yet speak, he now indicates he has mastered not only one but five languages, playing Disney games in English, Spanish, Portuguese Italian and Russian on his mother’s iPhone.

But the happy ending is not here yet. 

“Sometimes he cries for no reason or maybe there is a reason but he can’t tell me why,” Ms. Guillen says.  “I just hold him but sometimes he pushes me away. 

“As for the future, I don’t see that far ahead because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Read Xavier’s full Neediest Cases profile in The New York Times

For nearly a century, The New York Times has spotlighted Catholic Charities NY’s work and life-changing miracles during its annual Neediest Cases campaign.


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