When Briana Blankenship heard her five-year-old daughter say, “Mama,” she was stunned. Despite being in the middle of a drive-thru line, she immediately stopped her car and pulled out her phone. This was a big moment. And once she had finished filming, Briana let the tears fly.
Briana, 27, and her daughter Taylor, who live in Athens, Alabama, were going about their regular routine when the big moment happened. They were on their way to Taylor’s gymnastics class, when Briana decided to stop at McDonald’s for food. Briana told the Scary Mommy website that Taylor had been excited about having French fries, the food she liked best.
“That’s when I heard her say it,” Briana recalled to Scary Mommy. “I’m pretty sure I held up the drive-thru line but there was no way I wasn’t getting proof of this. I can’t explain how unbelievably grateful and ecstatic I am right now.”
Briana straight away got on the phone to her mom and husband to tell them what had happened and then rushed to take Taylor to her class. With no time to phone others in her circle, she swiftly uploaded the video to Facebook, tagging her family members. She wrote, “I am ugly crying in the McDonald’s parking lot and the employees probably think I’m crazy.”
Briana had good reason to be so surprised and happy to hear her daughter speak. This was the first word that Taylor had ever spoken. The five-year-old has nonverbal autism, and doctors had warned Briana that she might never utter a single word.
Briana told the Love What Matters website that Taylor had been a “happy, chunky, loving baby.” It wasn’t until she was 15 months old that Briana and her husband Jason noticed that their daughter might be different to other children. Briana said that they had been at a family party when someone had pointed out that Taylor’s unrelenting desire to pirouette hadn’t been “normal.”
When Taylor hadn’t said her first word by the age of two, Briana and Jason grew more concerned. Doctors initially assured them that their daughter was just developing at a different pace. But when Taylor still didn’t speak after being enrolled in daycare and speech therapy, her parents knew something was wrong.
Finally, after months of tests, Taylor was diagnosed with autism. Briana told Love What Matters that the diagnosis initially made her feel like a “total failure as a parent,” and she and Jason worried about what Taylor’s life would be like as she grew up. She said, “We love her so much and feared for her future in this often mean world with the keyboard warriors and the bullies we hear so much about.”
Taylor is still undergoing tests to help doctors learn more about her condition. But she has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder. People with ASD sometimes have trouble with social interaction and communication, and the condition can also cause language development to be delayed. Some children with ASD don’t ever gain the ability to speak.
Briana said her daughter usually communicated through pieces of sign language and a series of gestures. She also uses an iPad and is having speech therapy, which she has been attending since the age of three. But until that moment at the drive-thru, Briana had all but accepted that she would never hear her daughter speak.
The video that Briana shared has now been viewed more than 270,000 times. Messages of support have flooded in for the family from all over the world. It has also prompted other parents to share their experiences of raising a non-verbal child.
One father, Jeremy Hyde, wrote, “My son is autistic and up till he was around 3.5 he never said a word. I prayed every night for God to give him words so I could hear his sweet voice. I know the feeling you are having and it is like no other!”
Another parent, Rachael Price, commented, “My son will be five in June and has never said a single word. The older he gets, the more I lose hope. Most stories I hear of late talkers starting at three to four years old so thought we had missed our chance. This video restores my hope.”
Briana told Bored Panda, “We have had so many messages from people that we are giving them hope for their loved ones, or that we are making them feel less alone.” But she said that her video had also helped raise awareness among others. One person commented, “Thank you for reminding some of us not to take the things that are ‘easy’ for our kids for granted. I have watched this over and over with tears streaming down my face.”
Briana said that the family were glad to share their joy and excitement at Taylor’s big milestone. She wrote, “We are so grateful to be bringing this side of autism to the spotlight.” The family hopes that by raising awareness of the different types of autism and the good times that are possible, they can help to make life a little easier for children like Taylor as they grow up.
Indeed, there are plenty of those children. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in 37 boys in the U.S. has ASD and one in 151 girls. Autism is a general term that can describe several complex developmental brain disorders, which often feature social, communication and behavioral difficulties, as well as repetitive behaviors.
But Briana said that many were still unaware of what the condition really meant, and she hoped her video would help start that conversation. She said that media coverage of autism was often focused on negatives, “such as viral videos of a child having a sensory meltdown in the store.”
Briana told Love What Matters that she has also faced “judgmental looks” from strangers in the past. She said, “You see all the judgmental and awful comments blaming ‘poor parenting’ not caring to look into their world and see what is actually happening.”
Briana said that she had also received hundreds of friend requests from people around the world wanting to follow Taylor’s story. She said, “I’ve had dozens of messages from people saying things like ‘Please don’t judge me but I have no idea what autism is and that it could cause someone to have the inability to speak.’”
And after her first big step, Briana revealed that Taylor had now even started saying her second word, “Dada.” She said that she hoped the video would continue to shed more light on autism, adding, “With understanding comes acceptance, and that’s all we can ask for.”