The Diagnosis

I’m looking down at the keyboard as my fingers are about to type, and I can’t help but be completely overcome with emotion. February 28, 2011 will forever be the most indelible date in my life. Yes, my wedding date holds unparalleled happiness, and yes, the birth of both my girls, Cali and Ava, mark treasured moments in my heart, but February 28, 2011 opened my eyes to a whole new world. On this day, Cali was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Shortly after Ava was born, Casey’s parents made a trip down to meet this new little gem. Rather spontaneously, Casey’s mom asked if I had noticed Cali’s lack of speech. Honestly I hadn’t. Our life was changing pretty drastically with an exciting move to a new home and the birth of Ava. Not to mention Cali is my first child, so I did not have much to compare. My mother-in-law suggested getting Cali’s ears tested, which seemed wise to me considering how she had a very difficult time responding to her name.  We made the appointment with an audiologist and in my mind we were on our way to a quick fix.  The appointment day came and her hearing was absolutely perfect. My next thought was, ‘Okay, she has a speech delay.  Let’s get her in with a speech therapist.”  Not wasting any time, she began seeing a therapist once a week and again, I was relieved to be on our way to a quick fix. Speech therapy started around late September. I can vividly remember thinking how impressed our families would be at Christmastime when they would see Cali again and hear her speaking in complete sentences as a result of her time in therapy.


But then, October rolled around and the speech was not moving forward at all. At this point if someone would have mentioned autism I would have been completely dumbfounded. Well, someone did and I was completely dumbfounded. My younger sister called me one evening and started the conversation something like this, “I’ve been debating all day whether or not to bring this up, but I think if I didn’t I would regret it for the rest of my life.” She then went on to relate to me what she had recently been studying in one of her classes at SMU, the signs of autism. As she was going through the list I could not deny all the checks Cali was getting. No eye contact: check.  Outrageous fits: check.  Delayed speech: check.  No back-and-forth sharing of sounds and facial expressions: check.  No back-and-forth gestures (i.e., pointing, showing, reaching): check. The list went on. At this point I was still completely calm because of course while she had some signs, she was definitely not going to have autism. The main reason my sister felt a nagging urge to call me was because of the professor’s strong conviction in early intervention. Every day spent without therapy was, in the professor’s mind, invaluable time lost.  Our conversation ended and I immediately went to tell Casey. Honestly I didn’t know what to think, so I was hoping he would give me some answers. Not the case. His thought was I needed to relax and, if necessary, we would get her tested. Why did I need to relax? Because, in his mind, just like my initial thought, Cali was fine and she would not have autism.


November came and each new day brought stronger evidence of the signs. Or maybe it was my new awareness bringing them to light. Either way we could not deny reality and would not deny help to Cali. I contacted Autism Journeys to set up a consultation. After the consultation, we had a three-part evaluation; a meeting with a speech therapist, occupational therapist, and psychologist. The psychologist was the final evaluation, so the previous two (which were done on separate days) were almost a prep for what was to come. Sort of…


February 28th came and we were unknowingly starting a new, undiscovered, twisting and turning road ahead. The psychologist had a two-hour session planned with Casey, Cali and me, but obligations pulled Casey away after an hour so Cali and I finished together.. Tests were administered, questions were asked, and very quickly the therapist had an answer. Cali had autism. With my throat closing and eyes welling up, I was wishing I could go hide and cry like an absolute baby.  Instead, all that came out of my mouth was this, “Are you always this upfront with families? How do most people react to this news?” Questions are normally asked in order to get an answer, but I think I was just spitting out words to cover up my true feelings. My mind is blurred as to what transpired between asking those questions and getting in my car. I do, however, remember very vividly what happened in the car. My wish came true.


The crying was definitely due to some sadness, but the tears did not seem to pour down until I looked up into my rear view mirror and saw Cali. Minutes before, I had just been told that this beautiful little girl had autism, and yet in that moment I had never loved her more. My heart was so full. So full in fact, that when I called Casey no words would come. I was completely silent. I hung up and texted him: I’m crying and can’t talk. Can you meet me at home?  After 30 minutes of crying, I didn’t have any tears left. We made it home and Casey was there ready for the news. No, let me correct that. Not ready, waiting.  “Well, Cali has autism,” I said.  He sat leaning back in a chair with a straight look. No emotion really. Or maybe he was just like me with his throat closing up, not wanting to let his true feelings out. Although no words were spoken, I knew one thing for sure. Cali was and is his world and he loved her.


A year and a half has passed since that diagnosis and I find myself more secure and confident with this new reality. Casey and I didn’t waste a second delaying any therapy for Cali. We went full force and never looked back. It was a hard thing emotionally and mentally because we never had time to sit and digest all that was happening, but our minds were made up. We would give Cali every possible chance to succeed and close the gap. That was that. Period. No questions. And what do you know?  The gap is closing. I can’t help but dream about her future and honestly when I do I see this…


Cali excelling in school, having a best girlfriend she giggles with over boys, going to college, and marrying the man of her dreams! Lofty? I don’t think so.


We love you, Cali.


  1. Chelsea,
    this had me in tears. So excited your site is up and going. We love you all so much, and love Cali so much! So excited to watch her grow, learn, and develop, into a beautiful successful woman!

  2. This has touched my heart. My prayers are with you and your family always! I hope I can be an ounce of the mom you are Chelsea!

    Love, Kasey Langhofer (Dowden)

  3. This sweet story made me cry. You’re such a compassionate, courageous, loving mother. I love that you’re dreaming big for Cali and I can’t help but think you’re inspiring her to dream big. Prayers your way and big hugs.

  4. Chelsea,
    I just want you to know that your journey with Cali is amazing. No doubt in my mind that you both love her to pieces. Those dreams may be lofty, but with Heavenly Father’s help it is extremely possible!!

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Oh my heart… This is the very first that I have heard of Cali’s autism. She is a beautiful reflection of her parents. Thank you for sharing your raw emotions. This is very educational and has brought light to what I know little about. Thank you so very much for touching the lives of all who read your blog. We love your cute family!!!

  6. Chelsea, this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this. It can’t have been an easy task. This is the first I’ve heard of Cali’s autism. She’s a gorgeous girl, and you have such a beautiful family!

  7. What an amazing and inspiring story. Ever since I heard of Cali’s autism and have been babysitting her, I have wanted to study behavioral science. Because of Cali I hope to in the future work with autistic children. She is so sweet and I love babysitting her. Congratulation on your website Chelsea, its amazing!

  8. What a tender story. Nothing is stronger than a mothers love for her children. Both your girls are lucky to have such a devoted mom. Wonderful to see such great advice on here. Keep it up 🙂

  9. Chelsea,
    I’m really excited about your blog! I got really emotional when I read this because we have had almost an identical experience with Krew and I can totally relate to how you felt. He was put in the early intervention up to 3 program at Utah state for a speech delay and I remember perfectly the day one of the speech therapists brought up the word autism and said Krew was showing many red flags. He hasn’t gotten a diagnosis yet but the early intervention and special needs preschool has definitely helped and I am amazed at his progress. He definitely has some sensory disorders and things we are working on and I can’t wait to read your tips and everything else! Thank you for letting have a glimpse into your lives! 🙂

  10. Chelsea,

    Amazing web design and an absolutely captivating story. Your family is beautiful and I have no doubts every dream you have for Cali will be realized plus much more beyond imagination. Good luck, sweetheart.

  11. You’ve always been an amazing woman Chels, but you seriously continue to amaze me! You seem like such an awesome wife/mother! And the fact that you have the opportunity to help so many people is just great 🙂 keep it up!

  12. I remember the day hearing from Chris about Cali being diagnosed and how I was overcome with just a feeling of helplessness for you and casey and sadness. And then after driving with Syd during one of our summer excursions and her telling me the story how she was sort of the one that brought it up to you and once again just overwhelmed with the same feelings for you guys but no longer are those the feelings I would describe when thinking about it and seeing beautiful little Cali. She is full of personality and how exciting to see her grow and develop into a strong, amazing, beautiful woman! You and Casey are such an inspiration and such amazing parents. No tears of sadness just tears of joy and the progress being made. Your blog is amazing and you did such a great job putting it all together!

  13. Chelsea,
    What an amazing story. A few things came to mind when reading,
    1. Tears of course
    2. That I couldn’t think of a better mom to handle this journey of life that has been given to you. You are an amazing mother, you are amazingly kind and loving.
    3. I couldn’t think of better parents combined to handle this journey together. You and Casey are a one of a kind couple. How lucky is Cali to have you and visa versa.
    and last but not least from my favorite book Ordinary Mary. The last page says this, “The world has changed! And thousands and millions and billions agreed it was all because of one ordinary day, Ordinary Mary did a perfectly ordinary, stunningly earthshaking, totally extraordinary deed!” I believe this about Cali, MANY people will be changed by her because she is a perfectly ordinary, stunning earthshakingly, totally extraordinary GIRL!!!
    Love you and your family so much! Congrats on your website!

  14. Chelsea,
    You have always been a beautiful spirit. I truly believe your were blessed with your beautiful daughter that has autism because Heavenly Father knew you were exactly what she would need in this world. I have worked with children with autism as a teacher for nearly 14 years. It is a special passion of mine. Your family is so blessed. I am so happy to read your beautiful story. I hope all is well with Brittany and your parents. Blessings to all of you. 🙂

  15. Ok, this my last comment, I promise 🙂 This post made me cry because I experienced something so similar with my son. I remember feeling the exact same way, and at that moment, my world had become so gray. It’s heart wrenching to say the least, but the best thing that has happened in our lives. In that moment, my love for him grew as well. It doesn’t seem possible to love them more, but that compassion for them is so overwhelming! We also started early intervention and it’s changed things so drastically for him. Anyway, thanks again for doing this!!!

  16. What a heartfelt post! A few years ago, Jeff and I made the same visit to Autism Journeys with our little boy. I still remember the anxiety and apprehension. While he wasn’t diagnosed with autism, we learned some wonderful techniques to help him express himself better and for us to be better parents.
    I love your blog. It’s beautiful, and the writing is genuine and relatable. Way to go!

  17. This made me cry, too! She really is getting there, Chelsea, she REALLY is! Every day I am so impressed by her and her progress. Love you guys!

  18. Hi Chels. I wanted to tell you thanks for writing this. It’s very well written. I don’t really have a story to tell. I don’t think my kids have autism. I don’t really know any kids, close to me, that have autism. And, (no offense) but I’m really not that good of friends with you. Yet, I find myself reading your blog each week. I love the tenderness, the realness, and the inspiration that you convey in your writings.

    Thanks for doing what you’re doing.

  19. First off, can we be friends?! Thank you for sharing your experience! A friend of mine sent me your blog, and I love it. What a beautiful family you have. Your story has resonated with me so much. We are in the early stages of a diagnosis ourselves. My son is two. We have three boys, three and under. My second son Jude is on the spectrum. This last month we’ve experienced so much emotion. We live in Southern California and have just been fighting like crazy to get him what he needs. I’m amazed how even within the medical field, people can totally misunderstand autism. Goodness, our pediatrician sees us able to hold him and so they automatically think he’s fine! We did however always think his lack of response/attention was due to his hearing. What a shocker to find out his hearing was perfect. The minute we realized there was a bigger issue we’ve just dove in head first, I relate so much to you. I haven’t read too much on your blog just a few posts and your beautiful account of finding out about your daughter’s diagnosis. I just had to comment! I am so relieved to hear that you’re seeing the gap closing. We’ve switched over to the ‘no gluten, no soy, no dairy’ diet which I saw a link on your home page saying ‘what we eat’ so I won’t be surprised if you’re in a similar boat. I am amazed in the improvement of my son’s attention span already! He’s following commands, he still can be so frustrating but it’s really taken some of the edge off! The world we live in, I am just being blown away. I can’t wait to read more about your story and steal some of your tools for success. I have just been dying for weeks for more tools! Hooray for wonderful your blog! Best, Heather. (Isn’t it so true that as a mom you will do anything for your children!)

  20. I wish so badly I knew you!!! I wish I could take you to lunch and pick your brain!! Our stories are so similar, and I just saw your amazing video of sweet Cali on lunch pails and lipstick and she looks like she’s doing amazing!! My daughter was diagnosed they end of may last year and sometimes I feel like things are getting worse not better? It makes me sad, I wish there was more I could do to help her. Anyways you and her and your whole family are amazing, keep up the good work! Ps would it make me a horrible person to say I’m a little jealous of what autism looks like in your daughter compared to mine?

  21. I discovered your blog through Makell Wintle’s fb post. Im sure you dont remember me but I also lived at Village. Your posts are so heartfelt and touching. I have a sweet friend who had her son diagnosed diagnosed with autism not long before my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Gave me a tender spot in my heart for these amazing amazing kids. You are doing a wonderful thing and uplifting so many! Best wishes!

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