How Our Network Helped One Family Cope With Autism

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A year after her son was born, Michelle Bueno, an AT&T senior project manager in Finance billing operations, and her husband knew something wasn’t exactly right.

A year after her son was born, Michelle Bueno, an AT&T senior project manager in Finance billing operations, and her husband knew something wasn’t exactly right. Their son, Justin, was missing milestones. He was pointing to things, but Michelle and her husband could not understand what he was trying to communicate.

“Now, our network gives us a chance to be a typical family a few minutes each day,” said Michelle, a senior project manager in Finance billing operations.

Typical communications with technology.

Justin was diagnosed with autism at a young age. He was unable to communicate like other kids. He didn’t share his emotions nor speak very often with his family.

But when Justin was 8, the use of technology started to change the way this family connected. First, the iPod enabled the Buenos to download pre-school apps to help Justin identify a ball or cat. Justin’s learning was limited due to his inability to focus for more than 10 seconds. Later, a smartphone allowed him to learn and entertain himself for hours.

Now, as a teenager, Justin is able to communicate his feelings via text. Unlike many teens, Justin didn’t talk on the phone or socialize often. Texting over our network was a game-changer for him.

For the first time, Justin was able to communicate with his friends, also with autism,  like a typical teenager. If you read the texts, they don’t make sense. But he is socializing – something atypical of autism and not common at their special needs school. One autistic teen is texting about Pokémon and the other texts back about cars. And Justin can recite all of the texts from his friends afterwards.

“For a parent like me, every time your autistic child is doing something that is typical of his age, it’s a win,” Michelle said. “At night when he’s up late texting and not going to sleep, I’m mad at him because he has school early the next morning. But in the back of my head, I’m happy that he’s doing something that is typical behavior of a teenager.”

Expressing feelings from a distance.

Justin still doesn’t express his feelings often. But when he does, he has a hard time controlling his emotions or expressing them properly. He can be angry.

Once when Michelle told Justin it was time to get a haircut, he exploded. He called her “a bully,” and stormed off to his room.

Ten minutes later, she received this text: “i am sorry that i was over reacting i am not in good mood to get a hair cut right now so i am really sorry that i was over reacting.”

Michelle thinks Justin apologized because he realized that it’s not right for an 18-year-old to throw a tantrum over a haircut. Expressing regret for his actions never happened until he could step away from the situation and use his smartphone to send a text from afar.

“I know that he can’t control his emotions in person,” said Michelle. “In texts, I know he’s expressing his real feelings and he can talk to me.”

Peace of mind and comfort from technology.

Because she’s worried about her son wandering out of the house in the middle of the night, Michelle also uses the AT&T network to ensure Justin stays safe. She uses the Find my Friend app to track his whereabouts and she has Digital Life installed at home.

“The network gives me peace of mind that I know where he is,” she said. “I got Digital Life not for the purpose of keeping people out of my house, but to keep my loved ones inside. I am confident that Justin won’t leave in the middle of the night now.”

At the end of the day, the AT&T network allows Michelle and her husband to ignore the growls from their son when it’s time for bed. Instead, Michelle has comfort and joy in receiving a nightly “Good night, Mommy” text with a funny face or monkey sticker emoji.