I tell you; autism didn't come with a manual.
It came with a parent that'll never give up. – Deidre Roberson
Do you know how you have days that start out hectic as soon as your eyelids uncover your eyeballs in the morning? Well, on the day I scheduled to meet Deidre Roberson and her son Marshall was one of those days. It was rainy, cold, and just seemed to lack luster until I got to 10TwentyEight, a city club in Augusta, GA, and was greeted by Marshall Gregory Middleton’s kind embrace and warm smile that seemed to start at one ear and end at the other. Instantly, there was no more rain, only sunshine.
Before we begin, I watch mom seemingly effortlessly help Marshall adjust to this new place while ensuring he knows why we are all gathered in this beautifully decorated building with pops of yellow sprinkled throughout the décor. Marshall speaks up to say yes, he knows we are here to do an interview, and with this declaration, we jump right in.
Deidre eagerly begins to tell me about her work. She says, “I started an organization called Moms Moving Over Mountains Against Autism. The mission of MOMs is to assist parents and families of children with autism to move over mountains, challenges through peer support, training, and advocacy.” Considering her organization is about moms, overcoming, and autism, I asked Deidre to start from the beginning and tell us about her story of motherhood, mountains, and autism, and she obliged.
“Marshall's my first child. I was told that I couldn't have kids. I had bad fibroids, so I always said if nothing happened by the time I was thirty-five…take it out. On April 1, 2017, I called my doctor to tell her we can go ahead and schedule my hysterectomy. She suggested I come into the office because it had been a while since my last appointment, and it was about time for my annual visit. I never will forget April 10, 2017. I went in that morning, and they did what they usually do – check your urine and ask all the questions. I remember sitting in the room for about thirty minutes. Finally, the nurse came in the room. The doctor followed right behind. Even the front desk receptionist came into the room. I'm looking at them and wondering what’s going on here. The doctor says, ‘We cannot do the procedure. We're not going to be able to do the dye test. We're not going to be able to do anything.’ At first, it scared me. Then, she says, ‘You’re pregnant.’” Both Deidre and I burst into laughter.
“My first response was, ‘Who?’ Y'all must have mixed my pee with somebody else’s out there because y'all told me this couldn't happen to me. I didn’t believe them, so I told them they were going to have to do some blood work. They did the blood work. I went to see my aunt about five days later. She worked at a health department. She said, ‘Come on in here. We ain't even going through the front.’ I said, ‘Auntie Rose, they say, I'm pregnant.’ She looked unconvinced and handed me a test and said, ‘Go in there.’ By the time I used the restroom and passed her the stick, she said, ‘Child, come out here. Let me get your folder together. You’re having a baby.’” Again, we laugh in unison. I ask Deidre if she was happy about the pregnancy. “I was happy. I was excited. I was overjoyed. I went through the pregnancy journey, and Marshall arrived December 28th. We had no inclination or thought that anything was going to be wrong with Marshall. Marshall was a healthy baby boy.” Deidre goes on to share with me that when she would take the baby for his well child visits the doctor said Marshall was growing well, his weight was good, and everything was on target, so I asked her when she noticed a change in him.
“I'm going to tell you straightforward and honestly. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently because I want and love Marshal just as he is. However, if I were to ever get pregnant again, I would not do vaccines. I say that because I had the ma-ma, da-da, thank you, yes, and no, up until he got those 18-month shots. He just shut down after the 12 to 18-month shots. I thought he couldn’t hear me, so I started taking him to the hearing doctor. They put tubes in his ears, but I noticed he would only make grunting sounds and he started stimming. Stimming is when the child might pull their ear, hum, or pat their leg, things like that. At the time, I didn’t know what I was observing was called stimming, but I noticed my child was doing things that were different from what he regularly did. He was about two years old at this point. I did move fast. I want to make a point to say early intervention is the key. When it comes to our kids, early intervention is important. The earlier you start, and you work on it, the better off your child will be. I also stress that everything that works for Deidre and Marshall might not work for Grace and Mark. At this point, I asked his pediatrician to set up an appointment with a developmental specialist. The appointment was scheduled with Dr. Karen Carter for April 2010, and we made the appointment in March 2009.”
I interjected, “Whoa! That’s a whole year.” She said, “Right! This is one of the things I talk about with parents through my organization. The doctors are booked up. I learned to call every Monday and every Wednesday to see if there were cancellations. I asked them to put me on the cancellation book. One day I got a call at probably about 2:45pm. They had a cancellation and asked if I could be there at 4pm that day. I said, ‘Oh, we’re on the way.’ Marshall was diagnosed with developmental delay. The autism spectrum is very big. I was told there is a delay, but we don’t know how long this delay will be. I said, Ok. Gotcha. Going forward, I wanted Marshall to still be my Marshall. I wanted Marshall to go to school and have the same opportunities he would have if he didn’t have the delay.”
Deidre shares with me that Marshall started elementary school at three years old. She learned the laws governing special needs students. She was visible, actively engaged and an advocate for her son in his school and at the local board of education. She said, “I tell you; autism didn't come with a manual. It came with a parent that'll never give up. And I'm that parent. That's me. Yeah. I am her. For example, many parents will teach their child to read and recognize the alphabet by sight. I did not. I taught Marshall phonetically. I sounded out letters to him.” I asked her if Marshall can read. Proudly, she responded, “Oh yes.” She picks up a copy of the 2023 Winter Edition of SpeakUpSis! Magazine sitting on the table in front of them and asks Marshall, “What does this say?” Marshall begins to read the headings on the front cover of the magazine, “Winter edition, get to know her actress trainer, princess, chef's choice, feed the new you.” When he finishes reading, he looks at me with his wide, warm smile that clearly says, yes, I can read, and I read well. Both mom and I return his smile with equally wide and warm smiles. Deidre continues, “I always stay five steps ahead of anything that is going on with Marshall, especially his academics.
When Marshall was in elementary school, I had already visited all the middle schools to know what middle school he was going to attend. When Marshall was in middle school, I had visited all the high schools to know what high school he was going to attend. Now, Marshall is fifteen years old and in the ninth grade. I already know where Marshall is going after graduation. If it's Augusta Tech, Aiken Tech, or Helms College, he loves to cook. It will be his choice, but I’m already preparing for it.” She begins to share how she became a substitute teacher. “I went for a school visit; I am one of those parents who stops by the school. I went to visit, and they needed a teacher. I asked, ‘Where's the sub?’ They told me that she walked out and said she couldn't do it. I thought, okay, and I started subbing.” We both begin to laugh.
At this point, I am in awe of this proud, talkative, informed, compassionate, go-getter mom. I tell her that I love her tenacity and her “whatever-it-takes-for-my-child” attitude. She says, “The need was so great at the school that they just kept me. I was there almost every day, and I thank God for them. We have so much support, and I call them Team Marshall. Team Marshall is so big and not only does Team Marshall wrap around Marshall, but Team Marshall wraps around me for anything that deals with autism.” I ask her how can a mom get a Team Amy, Team John, Team DeMarcus, etc.? Because it sounds to me that the village is important as well. Her response was golden.
She says, “Team Amy starts with Team Mom. Once mom decides that she wants to be that voice for Amy, anybody else who’s supportive and connects with Mom and Amy becomes part of the team. I know a lot of people say to network. It's not a lot of networking to do when it comes to our children. For example, we’re talking now, but let's just take all this special needs out of this whole scenario. Now, think about this. We have a little boy that's running rampant. They don’t know what to do about him. You've seen him on the news. You've seen things going on. Your heart aches for him. My heart aches for him. It just becomes about what can we do to help this child.” She continues, “We don’t want to embrace autism or anything that deals with a label. People will say, ‘I’m not labeling my child.’ I have to say a lot of people don't want to label in the forefront, but they want the assistance. They know their child needs the help, but they want the help without other people knowing.”
I ask her if her organization, MOM Moving Over Mountains Against Autism, helps moms to wrap their heads around topics like labeling and helping them to shift their mindset about their child(ren) and autism. She responds, “That's the most important part about it. That's why my mission states parents’ advocacy, peers. Other parents are my peers. Even though Marshall and Tanya are autistic, we talk about Marshall and Tanya, but I also need to know how Charmaine [mom] is doing. I need to know what Charmaine is dealing with. I need to know how Charmaine is coping. I need to know is Charmaine understanding the paperwork that they're sending home about her child. I need to know if Charmaine needs Deidra to sit in an IEP meeting with her. I need to know if Charmaine needs me to go to this doctor's appointment because now, they're saying something else is going on. They are adding Tourettes into this. They’re adding ADHD or whatever else.
Through my organization, I try to assist with anything I can. I tell people all the time, I don't care what time of day or night it is, call me. I was once that mother at three o'clock in the morning laying in my bed crying because I couldn't understand why my child couldn't talk to me or say anything to me. I want moms to know that I'm here, and if you can't be your voice, I'll be your voice.”
I ask Deidre if she will give a word of encouragement to a mom of a child with autism who may be struggling or maybe she's just trying to wrap her head around it all and figure some things out. She says, “Never give up. Every time you look at your child, your child is your encouragement. I look at Marshall and he encourages me to be better. He encourages me to want to educate myself more and encourages me to want to learn more about autism. I did an interview once and a lady asked me what the most challenging part for me was. I told her it was never challenging. I’m always good because each day I learn from him and that helps me to be who I am and helps him to be who he is.” Mom looks at Marshall who has been wanting to get in on this conversation, so we wrapped our discussion by talking to him.
Mom: Marshall, what is your name?
Mom: Okay, Let’s try this again. What’s your name?
Marshall: Marshall Gregory Middleton
Mom: And how old are you?
Mom: And what school do you go to?
Marshall: Lucy C Laney
Mom: And what does Marshall really like to do?
Marshall: Dance and sing
Mom: Is there anything else?
Mom: Do you like to cook lunch?
Mom: What would you cook her for breakfast?
Marshall: Spinach omelet
Mom: Oh, you would make her a spinach omelet, as always. [she chuckles] Okay, I see you’re sleepy. Are you tired?
Mom: Well, you want to tell this lovely young lady thank you for giving you and your mama this opportunity?
Marshall: Thank you for giving me and my mama a opportunity
Mom: Because what are we doing?
Marshall: Winning Against Autism
What a perfect way to end this conversation. I thank Marshall for talking to me today and taking pictures and all that good stuff. Then, I turn to express gratitude to Deidre for the opportunity to meet Marshall and for her willingness to share their story with me.
I pray you have enjoyed meeting both Deidre and Marshall.
Deidre’s Contact Details
Facebook: MOM Moving Over Mountains Against Autism