When A Pediatrician’s Son Has Autism

It was a dream come true for ProMedica Physician Cathy Cantor, MD, and her husband Zack Shaffer, when she had healthy twins—a girl and a boy—to make their family complete. But when Emily and Zachary were 18 months old, Cathy started to notice some big differences in her children.

“Developmentally, they’d been even to that point but then Emily took off with speech and interaction and Zachary didn’t. Initially I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a boy, it’s taking him a little longer.’”

As a physician specializing in pediatrics and internal medicine, Dr. Cantor knew Zachary needed to be evaluated, but as mother, she was afraid of the potential diagnosis.

As a physician, Dr. Cantor knew Zachary needed to be evaluated. As a mother, she was afraid of the potential diagnosis.

“Even though I’m a doctor, his symptoms weren’t what you read about in a textbook. So that gave me doubt, which fed into my motherhood anxiety of not wanting to believe,” she explains.

After several weeks of evaluations, the Cantors received the definitive diagnosis: Zachary was on the autism spectrum.

Zachary Cantor

“I had all these anxieties: what struggles will he have? Will he go to birthday parties, baseball games–all those things you want for your children–will he do that?” she explains. “My husband was so terrific. He said, ‘we’ll help him be the best boy he can be.’ And I realized yes, that’s what our job is, to remove any hurdles in his way.”

Zachary was referred to ProMedica’s Finnegan Family Autism Center for help. After evaluating Zachary, therapists laid out their learning goals for him: Naming his body parts, saying his ABCs, counting to 10, and sitting in a chair for five minutes at a time. After working with Zachary herself, Dr. Cantor wasn’t sure he’d hit any of those goals.

“But within three weeks of going to Finnegan, he knew his body parts and he came home one day and said ‘I love you mommy!’ and it was pure elation; pure happiness and hope. I thought ‘Wow, that’s a breakthrough!’ Then you raise the bar. You raise your expectations.”

Zachary has continued to rise to the challenge, doing so well he’ll be going to all-day kindergarten with his sister this Fall. Dr. Cantor now believes the sky’s the limit for her son and is ready for whatever struggles they may face in the future, knowing they have a team of expert ProMedica caregivers ready to help.

“Zachary may need some extra tools to get there, and it really is going to take a village to raise a child in those situations. I’m so thankful Finnegan is part of the village. It’s been life changing and dream changing for us. What they’ve done for our son and so many others, there’s no way to repay them.”

Dr. Cantor encourages other parents with autistic children not to be afraid to seek help: “Don’t fear the diagnosis. We need to fear the years passing by of not getting them early intervention. Be an advocate for your child.”

Learn more about autism on ProMedica’s website.


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