Checkup after checkup, the first 18 months of Giacomo Pisani's life had his mom walking out of the doctor's office hearing the most reassuring word a parent could hear: perfect.
"We used to say he was going to be the pope, he was such a peaceful child," says his mom, Dyana, about her sweet, dark-haired first-born.
But by his 18-month well-baby checkup things had changed. "He was a different child," she says.
The boy who was talking well at a year suddenly wasn't. Don't worry, people told Pisani who was already worried.
But Pisani knew in her heart and experts soon confirmed it: Giacomo had autism. Intervention started early, with speech therapy, developmental play groups and occupational therapy, early help she believes is leading to Giacomo's successes.
"That just became our life, going to therapy," Pisani says.
Giacomo is now mainstreamed into a regular second-grade classroom, testing on a second-grade level with his peers, reading at a third-grade level, yet he can't tie his shoes or ride a bike. He's obsessed with the calendar and cooking shows on PBS, doesn't like changes in his routine and will only eat seven foods.
"No day is ordinary," Pisani says as tears fall and her 4-year-old, Charise, snuggles in closer to mom while watching Dora the Explorer. "You mourn. He won't play baseball with dad … Yet as much as you mourn it, you embrace it."
Still, Pisani's mind sometimes falls to the what-ifs, especially the big what if, what if she didn't get the MMR shot that seemed to coincide with the changes in Giacomo. It was enough of a worry that she wouldn't allow the combined vaccine for Charise.
Pisani, of Edison Park, has thrown herself into researching autism and reaching out to other parents. She admits managing only five hours a night of sleep, with the rest of her time spent seeking and sharing information on the Internet while her husband and children sleep.
Life with autism is not all doom and gloom, she says.
While autism has turned the family's life upside down, she says, "Upside down isn't so bad."