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Noah Clodgo-Valencia

Noah Clodgo-Valencia is a rambunctious toddler just like any other two-year-old. He loves eating donuts, playing with rubber window clings, and hugging his mom. The fact that he’s on the autism spectrum is just part of his story. According to his mom, Amanda, “Autism’s just a name, and he’s like any other child. He’s just on his own path.”

Before connecting with Riverside in October 2017, Amanda knew something was different about Noah, but didn’t know what. Whenever the doctor would ask about his progress during regular check-ups, she’d choose to say everything was fine and neglect to mention her concerns. At that point, she thought it was something she’d done that was causing Noah’s behavior.

Amanda has been clean of heroine for three years, methadone for two, alcohol for one, and nicotine for nine months and is proud of her progress. “I’ve come a long way. Because of Noah, I changed my life around.” But despite these tremendous achievements, she still worried her past was to blame for Noah’s challenges.
Amanda’s sister assured her though that it was in Noah’s best interest to tell the doctor about his behavior. He’d often experience ear bleeds and didn’t recognize Amanda as his mother. He’d have violent reactions, biting himself and others and hitting his head against objects, as well as self-injure in other ways. Whenever Amanda’s sister and brother-in-law would visit, Noah didn’t want anything to do with them and wouldn’t go near either one. When it came to physical milestones, Noah didn’t start walking until he was 18-months-old. He also didn’t say his first word, “kitty,” until he was one-year-old; and soon after learning the word, he forgot it and didn’t use it again until a year later. Even now, he’ll usually only make a “meow” sound rather than say the word, “kitty.”

Amanda knew all of these behaviors needed to be addressed, so with her family’s support she asked Noah’s doctor for guidance. When she did, the doctor reassured Amanda there were services that could help. That’s when Amanda learned about Riverside’s Early Intervention (EI) department, a free program that provides services from birth to age three for families of children with developmental delays.
Whatever his doctor or other professionals recommended, no matter the cost, Amanda never questioned whether to follow their advice if it meant Noah could be a happy, healthy kid. Fortunately, Riverside’s EI services are completely free of charge for all children and their families, so cost was never a concern for Amanda. But even if there had been a financial burden, she knows the amazing support from family and friends would’ve gotten her and Noah through anything. “If I needed someone, I could lean one way. But if they couldn’t help, I could lean the other way,” she explains. 

This support system has only continued to grow now that Noah receives services through Riverside. Since the involvement between Amanda, Noah, and Riverside began, Amanda says she cannot express enough how much Riverside’s EI team has meant to her and Noah. “They saved my life. They saved Noah from his struggles. They are like family, too,” she shares. Amanda says Developmental Specialist Taylor Ording and Occupational Therapist Penny Hines were instrumental in getting Noah the care he needed. “If it weren’t for Riverside, Taylor, and Penny, Noah would’ve probably been in the Emergency Room,” she states.

When Noah first came to Riverside, Penny suspected certain foods affected him and could be causing his violent reactions, so she recommended he only eat organic foods. Though Amanda was unaware food could be one of the culprits behind Noah’s behavior, she trusted Penny’s expertise and began buying Noah only organic foods. A little while after making this change, Amanda said she started to see a dramatic transformation in Noah’s demeanor, almost as if he was an entirely different child. His true personality started to shine through and the frustration that was once in his eyes was gone.

And as if this change in Noah’s behavior wasn’t proof enough that food was affecting him, Amanda said it becomes even more obvious whenever Noah can’t eat organic. One day shortly after making the change to organic, Amanda was unable to purchase the organic donuts she usually gives to Noah as a treat. Since the whole organic idea was still fairly new, she thought fresh donuts from the bakery down the street would suffice. However, in just an hour or two after eating the regular donuts, Noah’s violence returned. He was no longer the happy-go-lucky little boy Amanda had seen lately, but the troubled toddler with a tendency to self-injure. This drastic change in behavior proved to Amanda that she needs to do everything within her power to ensure Noah has access to only organic foods or else he may fail to make progress.

Ever since making this change, as well as discovering an effective medication, Noah has made a complete turnaround. With these adjustments in play, it’s easier for Noah to progress and learn. Amanda believes exciting things are in store for Noah in the future, “I see something big in him, and so can everyone around him. I think he’s going to do well in school.” 

The exercises Taylor has implemented also contribute to Noah’s recent achievements, especially the Choice Board and Communications Folder. Both materials allow Noah to see what his schedule is for the day, as well as give him the opportunity to make any changes he would like to that schedule. Once he accomplishes a task from the list, he gets to stash it away in one of the folder’s pockets and is rewarded with a high-five and hug from mom. 

Now with these exercises, Noah has a reliable routine everyday—one that allows him to have a say in what he does throughout the day. Amanda believes they have also given Noah a voice, something he didn’t have before. Not only does he get to decide what he does, he’s also gained the ability and confidence to communicate with others. Both Noah and Amanda are now learning sign language so they can better interact with one another and Noah can continue to share his voice.

Due to the many advancements Noah has made, Amanda has chosen to utilize the organization’s EI Plus services until he starts preschool in the fall. Noah will turn three-years-old in May and will age out of the EI Program. However, to ensure Noah still receives the care he needs before entering preschool and Riverside’s school-age support, Riverside caseworker, Jan Wintrow, will help Amanda and Noah make the transition.
Amanda says it is assistance like this that has made her appreciate everything Riverside has done for her and Noah. “I would recommend Riverside in a heartbeat. The workers, they don’t go to work just for the paycheck, they actually care about the people they help,” she says. Individuals like Taylor, Penny, and Jan were crucial in getting Noah the care he needed, but also in making Amanda realize that as a parent of a child with a developmental disability, she has to be open with herself and Noah’s diagnosis. According to Amanda, “Parents should never be ashamed of their child and their disability. It’s vital to do the research, learn as much as you can about this one aspect of your child, and accept them for who they are.” 

As Noah plays around the living room, running around without a care in the world—like every two-year-old should—Amanda smiles and shares that she wouldn’t be surprised if he even becomes a professional football or baseball player one day. “My son has an arm on him,” she says as she gazes at her son. And almost as if on cue, Noah smiles and tosses a foam ball to Taylor on the other side of the room. It lands directly in her hands.
With tears in her eyes, Amanda again reflects on how much Noah has changed in such a short amount of time. Now she can easily see the real Noah, and she wants others to see it as well. Even though she says, “I’m so thankful for his autism because that’s what makes him who he is,” Amanda wants others to know that every child is different and they should not be judged because of it. She embraces Noah for who he is and would never want to change him because of his diagnosis, “God gives you these amazing things, and you can drop the negative things. Noah is my world, and I’m happy.”