FAMILY FRIDAY: A South Bend Mother Shares Family’s Autism Story

Today, the Indiana ACT for Families coalition’s Family Friday spotlight is Donna Cox, a realtor from South Bend and mother to six children, including a daughter and son who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Donna’s Story

Donna has seen firsthand how important early intervention therapy is for children with autism. Today, her children are adults – her daughter is 27 and her son is 20. Her daughter’s diagnosis came later in life, making early ABA therapy impossible. In contrast, her son entered into ABA therapy at age 8 and it made a big difference in his life.

“Had we gotten the diagnosis early enough, I feel like a lot of the stuff we ended up dealing with could’ve been extinguished, if she had the right care in the beginning,” said Donna of her daughter’s experience.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of answers and a missed crucial window for early intervention therapy, her daughter was never able to gain enough skills to emotionally regulate. “ABA therapy would’ve been exactly what she would’ve needed to help regulate her moods,” said Donna when she explained the necessity of early intervention. “Now, the state is footing the bill for her group home care.”

Donna also credits her son’s access to ABA therapy with allowing her to go back to work. “Until my son got the proper care, I was unable to work. I was out of the workforce for 15 years caring for both of them,” said Donna. “I was finally able to return to a successful career when he got care.”

Determined to Find Something

Donna had the benefit of experience seven years later with her son when he began developing signs of autism. She immediately took steps to get him a proper diagnosis – a process made easier by improved understanding of ASD and better diagnostic tools. She was also determined to find better interventions and outcomes for her son. “[The experience we had with our daughter] made us even more determined, when we adopted our son, to make sure he got what he needed, and he did,” said Donna. Her son started ABA therapy at 8 years old.

Before beginning ABA therapy, Donna and her husband were very concerned for his safety. He was extremely violent, angry and aggressive to others and himself. She expressed that there was a point where they were left questioning how they were going to manage him as he grew up. Thankfully, ABA therapy worked for her son and changed the trajectory of his and his family’s life. “I can’t even imagine what our lives would’ve been like without the ABA therapy and early intervention that got his violent behaviors under control,” said Donna. “I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t gotten him ABA therapy.”

“They Were Wonderful”

Donna considers her son’s experience with ABA therapy to be lifesaving. At age 48, Donna suffered from a heart attack, which she says was due in large part to the stress that it took to care for her children. When her son started ABA therapy, he became nonviolent in six short months. This was a huge weight off of Donna and her family, who were constantly fearing for his safety. 

Donna credits all of her son’s growth to his devoted therapists who would do whatever it took to help him make behavioral improvements. “They would bring the whole team anywhere,” said Donna. “The house, the doctor’s office, anywhere I was, to help deescalate violent and aggressive situations.”

Donna said that she would explain to his therapists “his new thing” and they would help her to figure out why he was doing it and what needed to be done to intervene and improve the behavior. “We couldn’t even go to a restaurant because of his outbursts. After ABA therapy, now we can go into the noisiest, most obnoxious environments.”

The Impact of Early Intervention

Early intervention therapy for children with autism has been proven to improve a child’s quality of life and cost less than intervention later on in life.

Donna’s family is living proof.

Her daughter who didn’t receive ABA therapy is now fully dependent on the state of Indiana. “If she hadn’t had all these [engrained] behaviors, she very well could’ve gone to college and gotten a job and lived independently,” said Donna. “Consequently, she lives in a group home, and at this point it looks like she’s probably going to have to for the rest of her life, which the state is footing the bill for.”

In contrast, her son, who received ABA therapy at a young age, is now a happy individual who can live his life more independently. “After ABA therapy, he’s happy, he’s delightful, he’s doing things that he enjoys doing,” said Donna.

Having seen both outcomes, Donna emphasized the importance of early intervention autism therapy and the positive impact that it has, not only on the child, but on the entire family. “It’s not a pretty picture when they don’t get the care that they need,” said Donna. “It’s a beautiful picture when they get what they need, and the end result is that everybody wins.”


Indiana ACT for Families is a broad coalition of Hoosier families, ABA therapists, ABA therapy providers, and stakeholders, including The Arc of Indiana and other advocacy groups, working to advocate in support of promoting access to high quality ABA therapy services in Indiana. For more information, please visit www.IndianaACT4Families.com.

For press inquiries please reach out to [email protected].


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