Eleven-year-old Cole Castrogovannie likes horseback riding, cutting grass on the riding lawn mower and playing on the computer just like any 11-year-old boy does. Even if you look at Cole he’s just another southern boy who likes to have fun. What separates Cole from most children his age is the fact that he has autism, a condition he was diagnosed with at three years old.
“You don’t know unless he jumps around or something because he looks perfectly normal,” Trish Castrogovannie said, his mother.
Autism is a disorder learned early in childhood and is characterized by impaired social or communication skills, repetitive behaviors, or a restricted range of interests. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated one in 88 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a statistic that is increasing annually.
Cole Castrogovannie’s condition is not severe, he has high functioning autism and he is improving, at least his parents Blaine and Trish Castrogovannie think so. When their son was born, Trish Castrogovannie said she didn’t see any signs of autism, but the she did notice a delay.
“The doctors just said his speech was missing,” Trish Castrogovannie said. “They just thought it was a speech delay and that he was just late”
“But no he had autism.”
Trish Castrogovannie said learning her first child had autism was “a lot to get used to.” The family had to answer questions such as what school could they send their son to get the proper care.
Learning of Cole’s condition was a blow to the entire family, but they all welcomed it with opened arms and did research to know what steps should be taken to best benefit them all. Cole’s grandparents Emile and Mary Spano and Albert and Barbara Castrogovannie jumped on board with helping Blaine and Trish with their first-born child.
Emile Spano, Trish’s dad, said he remembers when his daughter would tell him how it hurt so much when your child couldn’t call you mama. But he’s doing a lot better now, Trish added in saying how well her son has improved on his condition.
“The more therapy, the better off you are,” Trish Castrogovannie said.
Cole goes to the Abilities for Speech and Language in Baton Rouge for schooling and speech occupational therapy.
“They are very smart, intelligent kids,” Mary Spano said about her grandson and others who have a similar condition.
“He’s smart, he just can’t get it out of his head.”
The Castrogovannie family has tried to figure out how Cole got his condition and has determined that autism is traced back into the family history on Mary Spano’s side of the family.
Mary Spano and three of her sisters all have great grandchildren with it and they are all in Trish’s generation and girl’s who all have boys who are affected with autism.
As far as a cure, the family said the doctors have yet to find anything to prevent autism from forming in a child at birth.
“They can’t get a handle on it because it’s something genetic,” Emile Spano said.
The only thing they’ve learned is therapy works. Trish said the more therapy the better off the child will be and the easier the child will develop. Mary Spano agreed with Trish and said she can see the change in Cole in the older he gets.
“The things he does is just what a normal child that age does, he’s sneaky,” Mary Spano said.
Other than not having a for sure cure to halt the condition, Blaine and Trish’s battle has been with insurance. Trish Castrogovannie said with the health laws being state and not federal, insurance must within the state because it won’t cover the child if the insurance provider is based from another state, which is a problem because Blaine’s insurance provider is out of New Jersey so it doesn’t work. Without insurance, care for Cole can cost up to $5,200 per month.
Despite the difficulties of raising an autistic child, Cole’s natural knack for having a warm personality rubs off on people the right way and the family can’t help but see the fun is raising their child who happens to have autism.
“He loves everybody and it affects them when he meets them,” Emile Spano said, “and they’ve got a special place in their heart for him.”
Of all the people Cole meets, none have more affection towards him than his 7-year-old younger sister Camryn. Camryn caught on to Cole’s condition and understands her big brother needs a little extra care.
“She’s like a mother hen for him, she takes care of him because she realizes what’s going on,” Emile Spano said about his granddaughter. “She looks out for him.”
The Castrogovannie family isn’t alone in raising an autistic child. Every April is Autism Awareness Month and there has been a logo dedicated to the cause and events held to raise money for research. The logo is puzzle pieces and it represents putting the pieces together to solve the mystery for a cure. The Castrogovannie family participates in a walk in Baton Rouge that raises money for the research center in Baton Rouge. The family said it is willing to anything to support autism awareness and it hasn’t been alone.
In Donaldsonville, Mayor Leroy Sullivan joined the city in on the cause and proclaimed April as Autism Awareness Month and Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez did the same for the parish. Spano said Sullivan jumped on board last year and has been a strong supporter.
“It’s unreal. Leroy is not just a person that I work with. He is a great friend,” Emile Spano said about Sullivan. “He is such a compassionate person when it comes down to stuff like that.”
Sullivan presented the family with the proclamation at the April 9 city council meeting at the Donaldsonville City Hall.