CHANDLER, Ariz. — Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability, according to the CDC. But if you ask Tania Garcia, she’ll tell you it’s more of “a combo of extraordinary abilities."
Now she’s using her own diagnosis as a chance to become an advocate for others like her, including her own daughter.
Garcia, who lives in Chandler with her family, spent the first 29 years of her life wondering why her social skills growing up were never quite the same as the other kids.
Certain noises, foods and social situations proved to be emotional triggers for her as well, but it always seemed to be a mystery.
That is until she took her 2-year-old daughter Valeria to a psychologist after she fell behind speech milestones last year.
Garcia learned her daughter had autism and made a startling discovery of her own: She herself was diagnosed as a high-functioning autistic person.
“It had a huge impact because we did not know anything about autism,” she said. “We had no other family members or anyone close with the diagnosis.”
The news sparked fear within Garcia’s heart. The thought of her daughter feeling the same troubles she felt throughout her life made her anxious until the psychologist delivered his own news.
“He told us that he was autistic himself,” she said. “So that was big news automatically, I thought that we were in good hands. He was going to be able to diagnose accurately, her symptoms, signs and behaviors.”
The coming months would become a quest to learn everything related to autism.
“I asked the therapist to give us resources, places, contacts, other specialists, or whatever was the next step,” she said.
And in the process of creating a list of help for her daughter, she found clarity for the mysterious condition that affected her for the entirety of her own life.
“When I got the diagnosis, everything made sense,” Garcia said. “All the little bits and pieces assembled, just like a puzzle.”
For Garcia, that knowledge is giving her and her daughter a path to move forward in life, and now she wants to spread that knowledge to thousands more people like her.
“I started taking courses to do public speaking because I want to be a voice,” she said. “I want to be an advocate for my daughter, for myself, but for other people within the autism world.”
Friday, April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day, and it's a moment for people like Garcia and her daughter to teach others about a community that is so large in the United States and yet often misunderstood.
About 1 in 160 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the World Health Organization. And there is no cure.
But there are significant resources available to help people like Garcia thrive. For her, the first step in that journey for a future begins with knowledge.
“I want to be the messenger for a lot of content that I have learned because we can make a difference,” she said. “If I'm able to change just one life, one family, one autistic adult - it's worth it.”
Learn more about Garcia's story here.