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Raising my Two “Awesomely, Awesome, of Awesomeness” Autistic Sons

By Merrick Egber

We, as an organization, are dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and our staff are on the gamut of helping to lead the way to a better future for them.

David L. Mendel, our Employment Specialist/Job Coach and Registered Behavior Technician, is one of them and also a father of two young boys with ASD. For this Father’s Day, I wanted to interview him on how the diagnosis of ASD for his two sons impacted him, why he started to work here, and what impact he is making daily to help others, like his sons, to understand their place in this big, beautiful world that we live in.

Originally from Philadelphia, PA, David obtained his bachelor’s degree at West Chester University where he had careers in retail management and being a middle school teacher. After the birth of his oldest son, Salvatore, in 2012, he moved to Florida in 2014 and made the career shift to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy after his second son was born in 2015. David’s career in ABA therapy led him to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and is certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). While working in the field, he also developed skills that would lead to him becoming an employment specialist allowing him to work with children and adults. David also volunteers in the community with his sons at various special needs events.

Before your sons were born, what did you know about autism?

“I didn’t know much about autism before my son’s diagnosis. I have a cousin who has autism, but it was never explained to me other than the way he spoke. When Salvatore (Sal) was diagnosed, I began to learn more about ASD. To build a connection and to have a better relationship with Sal, I also began my journey as an ABA therapist.”

Where did you first hear about the Els for Autism Foundation®?

“I first heard about the foundation when my wife and I were researching for a school for our son, Sal, when he was first diagnosed, but at that time we lived much further away.”

What services and programs did you or do you use at Els for Autism®?

“I work in Adult Services, as part of the Employment Team, and on occasion assist with the ADT program. My son attended summer camp last year, and Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott met Sal during that camp and saw he needed communication support. Dr. Lozott then collaborated with Claire Seefried, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), and gave Sal an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) assessment which opened the door to him having his own AAC device. Now, he is thriving at communication. Also, my co-workers share the resources they found with their clients in the past that I did not know about, and I use some of those services to help both of my boys. I am forever thankful for their collaboration and the support they have given me.”

What made you want to become an employee of Els for Autism Foundation?

“In my career as an RBT, I always heard how well Els for Autism collaborates, teaches, and empowers the individuals they serve and their families. As a parent and an ABA therapist, I knew that I wanted to belong with an organization, like Els for Autism, so I can grow my career to help other individuals like my sons, Sal and Domenic.”

While working at the Foundation, how did your understanding of the condition grow?  

“I found, working in the Adult Services department, there is more than what I thought Sal could do after completing school. I have some clients that are like Sal in their communication and behavior. I now can see that Sal can have a bright future because of my experience with these clients. Sal can have a job, be productive in society, and have independence when he grows up. After all, isn’t that what every father dreams about their kid’s future?”

How has it impacted your family knowing that you are making a living improving the lives of those with autism, like your sons?

“Our family has become more hopeful, knowing more about the options Sal has for his future. Also, I know that there are people, like me, within the Els for Autism community that will strive for the best resources for a better quality of life for the community that my children are a part of.”

What’s the most rewarding part of raising sons with autism?

“My two boys are unique in their own ways. They have talents that some people take a lifetime to discover. However, for them, it’s natural, and it is rewarding to see them find their natural abilities.”

What does Father’s Day mean to you?

“Being a father is rewarding itself. I have two boys of my own that I raise with my wife. My boys may struggle, but I am so proud of their achievements and what they already have overcome. Father’s Day is a day that I can reflect on how lucky I am to have these two awesomely, awesome, of awesomeness boys that show me the enjoyments of life that I could only imagine until I had them. Father’s Day to me is a day I always reserve to hang out with the boys that call me Dad.”

We would like to thank David Mendel for taking his time and engaging with us about what matters about being a father and raising two sons with autism. We would like to wish everyone a happy Father’s Day and show appreciation for the fathers who have cared for you, supported you, and guided you when you needed to find a way through.