A diagnosis of autism can turn a family upside down, and that was the case for William Spiller IV when he was diagnosed at age two. Because he didn’t speak or respond, doctors first thought his hearing was the problem, but an auditory brainstem response test proved his hearing was fine.
The school system where they lived at the time wanted to label William as having mild mental retardation, which didn’t sit well with his mother Naisha Brignac. Another parent suggested she have him tested for Fragile X, or mutated chromosome. That test was negative as well and helped doctors determine William does not have a mental disability but instead has autism.
“After I got the diagnosis, I was devastated,” Naisha says. “I just wanted him to be healed and cured from autism.” As time went on, Naisha has come to embrace William’s differences and celebrate milestones, even if they come later. Now 13, William was potty trained at five and started speaking in full sentences around age six.
William has two younger sisters, Wynter is nine and Chloe is five, and Naisha has seen how school systems treat children with disabilities differently.
Over the years, Naisha has had to learn how to advocate for William and stand up for his rights. “It’s been a journey,” she says. “I just want the best for my son, for him to have a free, appropriate education just like his non-disabled peers.”
The lessons from advocating for William have spilled over into Naisha’s life beyond parenting. “My son has taught me to be resilient and strong and to endure anything that comes my way,” she says. “I understand after 13 years why God gave me William: to advocate for him and other children with disabilities. I want to help others because somebody helped me and taught me the law.”
The family moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 2015 for a fresh start, and the nonprofit organization Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge helped make the transition easier. FHF supports families with members who have physical, cognitive, mental, emotional or behavioral disabilities.
“I just thank God for Families Helping Families,” Naisha says. “I can call them any time if I have a problem. I’ve got somebody in my corner who can help me, teach me, guide me.”
William is starting virtual learning as an eighth grader at McKinley Middle School. He’s a visual learner and enjoys working on cars with his stepdad, Cornell Matthews. William enjoys video games, especially Minecraft, and one of his favorite TV shows is The Golden Girls. He’s also great with computers “If you need to be educated on a computer, he will show you and train you thoroughly,” Naisha says.
Thinking about the future, Naisha worries about William being manipulated or coerced as an adult. “I want William to be as self sufficient as possible,” she says.
“You never know what’s going to happen in life; this could happen to anyone,” Naisha says. “I’m going to keep fighting. I’m learning each day. My son teaches me each day.” ■