Did you know: there are currently 60,000 kids on the waitlist for Ontario Autism Program Funding with 1,000 more being added on a monthly basis? A mother of two, Kattiann Mood oldest son Jack was diagnosed with Autism at two-and-a-half years and is one of many children in Ontario on the waitlist for much-needed support and funding. Turning four this month, Jack’s diagnosis shaped Kattiann’s parenting journey (from airline pilot to advocate) leading her to become an advocate not only for her son but all children with developmental disabilities, and their families. Kattiann began looking for ways to make a tangible impact not only to help families in need but as a way to channel her own emotions and creativity which lead to the launch of her e-store, This is Autism. With a variety of T-shirts, hoodies and accessories that incorporate powerful messages and designs created by Kattiann herself, 100 per cent of all sales from the store go directly to families waiting for Ontario Autism Program funding. We chatted with this supermom to learn more. —Vita Daily
Your oldest son Jack was diagnosed with Autism at 2.5 years and is one of many children in Ontario on the waitlist for much-needed support and funding; how has Jack’s diagnosis shaped your parenting journey (from airline pilot to advocate)?
At 18 months old I knew something was different with my son, however, I didn’t initially suspect Autism. As he got closer to 2.5 years old it became more apparent to me that he was autistic, however, it still wasn’t confirmed. On Nov 24th 2021 we finally saw a diagnostic specialist and she confirmed my son was in fact Autistic- he was diagnosed with Mod/severe level 3 nonverbal autism, even though he had over 2,500 words in his vocabulary. Since that day I knew my parenting journey was going to be much different than I had imagined. Having always been a leader and a go-getter, I have definitely used those strengths in this expedition. I have had some hard times along the way, but nothing I can’t overcome. When Jack was first diagnosed, I was grieving for my son and what his future held for roughly 24 hours before I sprang into action mode as professionals talk about early intervention being key to success with ASD. When I tried to get him into ABA services (applied behavior analysis), the wait list was 3 years long, so I decided to educate myself and take courses to learn how to help my son. I would put my kids to bed at 8pm and I would study from 8-11pm every night until I knew the material. I have learned so many strategies that I can use for both of my children -it’s incredible! I was on maternity leave at the time, so I was able to focus on working with Jack daily. He has come so far, and we are all so proud of who he is. I am so lucky I have the job that I have, and can support all my sons’ needs, it is not lost on me that I have the means that not all parents have.
How do you use your platform/journey to impact those who follow you/better the lives of others?
I use my platform to reach other moms with autistic children like me. I have made several new mom friends since starting my new Instagram page “This Autism Mom” in February 2023. I believe my content reaches a variety of people whose lives are touched by Autism. I try to be as authentic as possible, and I like to share a lot of positive content. I think some people have a negative image when they think of Autism, and I want to show the world autism can have many colours. My son is truly amazing, and I want to highlight that to the world. I get a lot of DMs asking about the different things I post about; I love helping others navigate this journey and pointing them in the right direction when they are not sure which way to go.
What do you offer via your This is Autism e-store, and how does it help support your cause of choice?
April is Autism awareness month, so I decided to launch a merch store in Jack’s honour called “This is Autism”- my hope is to help families in Ontario who are on the Ontario Autism Program wait list for government funding. Right now, there are more than 60,000 children waiting for funding in Ontario with that list growing monthly. My store has a variety of things including shirts, hats, stickers, mugs, and buttons- with all proceeds going to these families in need. I created all the designs myself and they are all autism related.
I have a third-party that prints and ships the designs; however, I’m hoping that is temporary, so more of the profits can go directly into the hands of the people who really need it most. I track all the sales myself and once I reach a certain number, I choose a family I feel is in need and deserves a helping hand. If you would like to learn more you can check it out here.
What two or three things do you wish others knew about autism, as well as the importance of autism awareness and support?
I want others to know Autism is not a marathon; a marathon has a finish line. If you are autistic- that is a life-long diagnosis – not something that you can “fix” or “cure”. That being said, a diagnosis is not a “death sentence”, it is a door that allows access to services and opportunities. Autism can be dark, but it can also be beautiful. You just have to look at it through a different lens.
Secondly, non-speaking is not non-thinking. I recently watched a documentary recommended by a fellow autism mom called “Spellers” and it literally blew my mind, evoking so many tears and emotions. It shows the world that nonverbal children actually have a lot to say with no way to let it out, this was until letter boards and other tools were created to assist them. I highly recommend watching it!
Finally, teach your children about autism and that it is okay to be different – we need more awareness and education. Today 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism, soon EVERYONE will know someone with autism or have a connection to ASD in some way. We need to spread awareness, acceptance, and love. They say “if you have met one autistic person then you have met one autistic person,” because no two autistic people are the same. The spectrum is massive and it is not linear, it is a circle with a number of traits and qualities. Every individual on the spectrum will have different boxes to check, which makes everyone so unique.
How can others help raise Autism Awareness?
I believe the best way to spread awareness is to educate yourself. Listen to podcasts, read books, talk to real life people who are experiencing autism firsthand. I will say before I had a child on the spectrum, I knew very little about autism myself. Since my son’s diagnosis, I have changed as a person – for the better. I’m more understanding, patient, and aware of what is happening around me, I’m also more sympathetic and less quick to judge. I do find most people are kind, especially when I am up front and tell them that my son has autism. In the beginning I expected the worst in others, but people have really surprised me and I have had very little conflict (if any at all) when I am out in public. I make a point to take my son everywhere I go, no matter how hard it might be. I put myself in the right mindset and I have a game plan. I want him to experience all the world has to offer and I want him to know that he can do anything he wants to.
How is your story reflective of so many parents with kids on the spectrum?
I am very open about my son’s diagnosis, and I feel extremely comfortable discussing it with anyone including but not limited to my friends, family, and strangers. Parenting a child on the spectrum is a very unique experience. There are a lot of tough days, and it is not the same as raising a neurotypical child. For example, there was a point in my life when I didn’t know if my son knew I was his mother. It was heartbreaking. I know when I share these experiences, others can relate to my story, and they feel connected in one way or another. Everyone’s story is so different, but there are also many families who share similarities. I feel like autism parents want to be heard, so when they see I am also experiencing the same thing, they feel secure in reaching out and talking to me, as well as sharing their individual experiences.
What’s next for you and Jack?
Oh my gosh, I would love to write a children’s book about Jack and our story. It’s on the bucket list- I need to find the time in my crazy schedule to make it a priority! Jack is the most incredible little boy who surprises me daily, I know he is going to do incredible things in this world. For me, I will keep working at equality and inclusion for my son in all aspects of his life. I will always be his biggest advocate, until he can do it for himself one day.