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Patient Story

Joey MonacoJoey Monaco: A Dream Come True

She never crawled, never reacted to loud noises and shunned the connection that most toddlers crave.

“Joey didn’t like interacting with us,” says her mom, Nancy. “She happily stared at “Barney” on the TV for hours.”

At 17 months old, Joanna (Joey) Monaco was evaluated at the Developmental Evaluation Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, and she was found to be on the autism spectrum. Children with autism spectrum disorders lack the ability to relate to their caregivers, to engage in developmentally appropriate communication and play, and to process sensory information, such as sound, sight and touch.

The news was shocking, and Nancy and Joe feared for their little girl’s future. Fortunately, Kristin Gist, MS, who evaluated Joey at that time, knew just what to say and do. (Kristin is now the Senior Director of Developmental Services at Rady Children’s.)

“Kristin realized my husband, Joe, and I were overwhelmed and scared,” Nancy says. “She made it clear Joey’s early diagnosis was critical and that immediate treatment was essential since her brain was still developing,”

To help Joey get the right treatment, Kristin gave Nancy and Joe an action plan for accessing services at Rady Children’s and throughout the county. The hard work of Joey’s therapy then began.

“My days focused on Joey’s progress—working the developmental and floor time techniques Rady Children’s staff taught us, attending play groups of similarly diagnosed kids and support groups for parents, and bringing Joey to speech, occupational and behavioral therapy appointments,” Nancy says.

“It was difficult for our entire family, since all of us were involved. And Joey struggled with the therapies. But we wouldn’t waiver on our goal to get her into kindergarten without support.”

The years of sacrifice, struggles and determination would give their daughter a new life. Before she turned 5, Joey was re-evaluated at Rady Children’s. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan showed a typically developing brain, and a speech delay remained her only significant issue.

“As a family, we shared in every success—including Joey starting kindergarten,” Nancy says with pride.  She notes that these experiences made their family closer, and although Joey faced some challenges during elementary school, one would never know it when meeting her today.

A graduate of Carlsbad High School with honors, Joey now attends the University of Portland on a scholarship – and she is studying to become an occupational therapist.

Given Joey’s successes, it is hard to believe Nancy once wept about the dreams she had for her daughter—dreams she felt might never come true.

“We are so grateful that Rady Children’s was, and is, at the forefront of diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorders,” Nancy says. Without their staff’s support, I don’t know if Joey would be starting an exciting new phase of her life today, as a college freshman, who is committed to helping children diagnosed with similar disorders.”