‘A whole new world’ has recently opened up to Peterborough teen with autism 

  • Frank DiNino holds his cat outside of his home in Peterborough on Friday. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Frank DiNino waters a tree outside of his home in Peterborough on Friday. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Frank DiNino attends ConVal’s junior/ senior prom at Franklin Pierce College on Saturday, May 19, 2018, with two of his teammates and friends from the unified basketball team, Hannah Payne, and Shea Ellis.  Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, May 25, 2018 5:52PM

Frank DiNino sat at a table in the kitchen of his home not long after school let out on an April afternoon holding an iPad and scrolling through Facebook.

DiNino wanted to send one of his friends a message, but he couldn’t quite think of what to write.

“What are you going to tell her?” Amanda DiNino, who was also sitting at the table in the kitchen, asked her oldest son.

“Will (she) pick you up when you’re 21?” DiNino said to his mom.  

“I’m not sure, honey,” Amanda said. “I’m sure you’ll see her when you’re 21.”

Amanda said her son, who is 17, knows that he is graduating from ConVal when he’s 21 years old. She said he is under the impression that everything is going to happen for him after he graduates.

“It’s all going to come together when he’s 21. Right, Frank?”

“I am,” DiNino said.

DiNino started typing on the iPad, “I miss you,” he wrote to his Facebook friend.

“What are the things that are going to happen?” Amanda asked.

“I’ll get a rabbit at Petco when I’m 21,” DiNino replied.

“You’ll get a rabbit at Petco?” Amanda said.

“I am,” Frank replied.

“Will you get a job?” she asked.

“I am,” DiNino replied.

Amanda suggested that her son tell his Facebook friend the news that he had recently landed a gig at the Friendly Farm in Dublin, a spot that has about five acres that acts as the home to farm animals like cows, horses, pigs, goats, and sheep. Amanda said they found out recently that her son will be able to work on the farm this summer. She said it’s a great opportunity because he loves animals. DiNino listed off a number of animals that he already cares for, including a cat, dog, fish, and a hamster.

“So tell her (Facebook friend) you got a job at the Friendly Farm,” Amanda said to her son. “What are you going to do at the Friendly Farm?”

“Feed them,” DiNino said.

“What else?” Amanda replied.

“Feed them water,” DiNino said.

“You mean give them water?” Amanda said.

“I would,” DiNino said.

“Are you going to be a farmer?” Amanda asked.

“I am,” DiNino said.

“Should we get overalls?” Amanda said.

“I can,” DiNino said.

Amanda said her son received an official diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, or PDD-NOS, which is a form of autism when he was 2 years old.

She said she thought something might not be quite right from a young age.

“I kind of always had a gut feeling. Like he was my first so it was nothing concrete but I thought, ‘it shouldn’t be this hard. I feel like he shouldn't be crying this much,’” Amanda said.

She said that her son had very little communicative language, was very sensitive to loud noises, and rigid with his routines.

At DiNino’s 18-month checkup, a doctor told them that they should get in touch with early intervention, which are services that help babies with developmental delays or disabilities.

“It wasn’t as well known as it is now,” Amanda said about the autism diagnosis. “So I mean when they said autism my stomach just dropped because it just seemed like the worst thing that could happen at the time honestly.”

She said the PDD-NOS diagnosis meant that her son fits a lot of the criteria for autism, but not all of them. Amanda said at the beginning she took that diagnosis and held onto it closely.

“I was like, ‘oh, he doesn’t have autism, he has PDD-NOS,’” Amanda said while standing over a boiling pot of water on the stove. “I guess I was clinging to that little bit of information.” 

Then she started researching it online and discovered his diagnosis was a nice way of saying that the autism isn’t as bad. But as the years have gone by, she said that she would never say that her son has PDD-NOS. Now, she tells people he’s autistic. That’s partly because there’s more awareness about autism than there was when DiNino was first diagnosed. 

About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Center for Disease Control. The prevalence of the disorder in American children increased by 119.4 percent between the years of 2000 and 2010 and is considered the fastest growing developmental disability, according to the CDC. 

Amanda, her husband, and their two sons moved to New Hampshire when the kids were small. She said when they first arrived she wondered what she had done. She said they moved following a job her husband had taken in the area. Amanda said she probably didn’t do enough research about services for her autistic son before they arrived. Once the family landed, she said, it was clear that there weren’t as many services in New Hampshire as she had expected.

Eventually, she said, the family found services through Monadnock Developmental Services and then a support group that helped too. She said when DiNino started preschool in the ConVal district things became a lot easier. 

Amanda said he went through the ConVal district until he was middle-school aged at which time he went to a small school in Brattleboro. They made the decision to place DiNino back into the ConVal school system during his high school years. Amanda said they were nervous to send him back to the public school system. 

“We second-guessed ourselves right up until the last minute,” Amanda said. “You kind of think, ‘are you throwing your kid to the wolves when they’re so dependent on other people?’”

But, she said, “we have been just so happy with the program.”

“How he has been received and how he has been treated and the whole thing ...” Amanda said trailing off. “A whole new world has been opened up to him.” 

Last weekend, DiNino attended the ConVal junior and senior prom with two of his teammates and friends from the unified basketball team, Hannah Payne, and Shea Ellis.

“The prom is a rite of passage for most teenagers but it’s not one that we ever anticipated for Frank,” Amanda said. “He had the best time celebrating with friends.”

DiNino finished typing the message to his Facebook friend. He told her about his job at the Friendly Farm this summer.

The message went off with a “woosh.” Then it was time to wait.

“It’s hard to wait, isn’t it?” Amanda said to DiNino after the message was sent.

“It is,” DiNino replied.

She said she notices that in her son, everything he experiences seems heightened.

Amanda said she noticed that the other day when she was watching new episodes of the television sitcom Roseanne. She said watching those new episodes felt like being with an old friend because she watched it growing up.

“I told my (younger) son, ‘exactly what I think about Roseanne is exactly how (Frank) feels about Sesame Street,” Amanda said, adding that it’s DiNino’s favorite show. “It’s like comforting and something you’ve always known and you know what to expect. It’s almost like being with friends because you know these characters so well. So yeah just like ho w we would feel but times 100, or a thousand sometimes.”

That’s what it’s like waiting for a Facebook message response too. The anticipation anyone would have, but multiplied.