An Autism Diagnosis Isn’t Stopping Local Mom Brittany Mitchell
By Kerri Cooke
If you’ve ever seen the movie Miracles From Heaven starring Jennifer Garner, then you might have an inkling about what it takes to be a mother to a child with special needs. These mothers are not just mothers, they are advocates for their child’s health and wellbeing. Whether it’s taking their child to therapy sessions or creating special meals for their benefit, mothers of children with special needs go the extra mile to ensure their children thrive. April is Autism Awareness Month and Mother’s Day, so let’s look at a local mom who fearlessly advocates for her autistic son.
Brittany Mitchell is a local mother who recently found out her 4-year-old son has a mild case of autism. The journey to this diagnosis was almost two years in the making.
The first signs that Captain Mitchell needed a little extra help came when a daycare teacher told Brittany that she was worried because Captain was showing signs of a speech delay. Captain was enrolled in speech therapy and began to show signs of sensory issues a few months later — reacting to bright lights and loud noises. A diagnosis of sensory processing disorder was made, and Captain was also enrolled in occupational therapy.
When Captain’s progress plateaued at both speech and occupational therapy, the Mitchell family was encouraged to get Captain further evaluation. In between Hurricanes Laura and Delta last year, Captain was officially diagnosed with mild autism.
When I ask Brittany if she had to quit her job or if she had already been a stay-at-home mom, she tells me that she was a financial controller at L’auberge. When Captain began needing more of her time, she says, “my work encouraged me to devote more time to my family.” She then “took a demotion” so she would have the ability to work flexible hours and remotely.
Captain started going to St. Nicholas Center for Children in October, 2020, and Brittany says, “that has been a game changer for him” and that she’s seen definite progress since enrollment.
Captain “doesn’t show many of the stereotypical signs of those with autism,” Brittany says. But he does enjoy playing by himself more often than with his peers as he “doesn’t interact well with others.” He’s also very active, which Brittany says can be “exhausting,” and has trouble with eye contact and concentration.
But Brittany says she doesn’t view these things “as a challenge but an opportunity.” She admits that the term “autism” used to be scary, but with knowledge that fear melts away. “My child is bright, sweet, confident … [Autism] doesn’t prevent him from being those things but enhances those things.”
Brittany is very careful to never say that her son is different, but prefers the term unique. “He doesn’t see himself as different and I think that’s the best trait.”
The Mitchells take extra care to make sure Captain has plenty of opportunities to just be a kid. Brittany mentions that he loves parks and being outside. “If we would let him sleep outside, he would,” she says. He also loves Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Lafayette. While she might take Captain to such places during the week to avoid crowds, Brittany says she wants to “keep him as included with everything as possible” and “never want[s] him to be prevented [from doing] things he enjoys.”
While autism doesn’t prevent Captain from being a regular kid, Brittany says she does have to handle situations with her two sons differently. She says, in the case of Halloween candy, if her younger son, 3, asks her to eat candy before supper, she can tell him no and “that will be the end of it.” Captain, though, “needs to know the why.” Another example Brittany uses is when she told Captain not to climb a fence and he had a hard time understanding why that was a dangerous thing to do. She has to “phrase answers differently, but the answer is the same.”
When your child has special needs, it can make a lot of people nervous or uncomfortable because they don’t understand the situation firsthand. That can be difficult for families, and Brittany says “the bulk of the outside world doesn’t understand my child … I know autism has a stigma.” But it simply means “we have a different path in front of us.”
“There’s a difference between autism acceptance versus autism awareness,” she says. In other words, people not only need to be educated about what exactly autism is, but also be more supportive and inclusive when dealing with a child with autism. Support costs nothing but means everything to parents who just want their children to be treated the same as other kids.
Not many things are stronger than a mother’s love. And Brittany and Captain Mitchell are a powerful team — full of drive to show the world the gifts of children who are a little unique.