It’s difficult for 41-year-old Belton resident Joe Dimino to speak about the tragic death of a 5-year-old autistic Cass County boy earlier a month ago.
On July 8, more than 100 searchers combed through corn fields and over creeks for more than six hours in Garden City searching for the little boy, Gene Cory-Ferguson, who in a moment had wandered off from his home.
It happened in an instant, but by dusk, a rescuer found the boy dead at the bottom of an algae-covered pond no more than 100 feet from his house.
“It’s so hard as another parent to talk about what happened,” Belton parent Joe Dimino said.
Joe’s 9-year-old son, Miles, is also on the autism spectrum, and needs constant attention and supervision.
“It’s such a heartbreaking thing because you’re constantly, constantly on edge to make sure that everything is good,” he said. “There’s never really ever time that he goes out of range. You’re constantly thinking about what needs to be done and you’re constantly keeping an eye on your children. We always know where he is at, we’re always keeping an eye, and we’re actively engaged.”
But, unfortunately, accidents happen.
The heartbreaking tale in rural Cass County has been replayed over and over again in the community since that dreadful afternoon.
But like other parents of autistic children, Joe and his wife, Carrie, 42, understand the realities of bringing up a child who is on the spectrum.
Miles was born with an extra piece of genetic material in his 15th chromosome that resulted in sensory integration issues. In his case, Miles struggles with speech communication.
For parents of autistic children, a quick slip in the pool or a mad dash into a busy street could take a tragic turn in a moment - as it could for any young child who wouldn’t know better.
“There are a lot of levels of fascination and curiosity that go into anything that is happening around them,” Joe said. “You need to make sure that you communicate the dangers.”
The Diminos have pledged their lives in monitoring their son at all times.
They also made sure he could swim by an early age after they installed a pool at their home when Miles was 5.
“One thing we were very specific about was making sure he knew how to swim early on,” Joe said. “We wanted to make sure that he was going to be able to be self-sufficient in water.”
Joe said special needs kids are fascinated with things like water.
Miles also likes to be friendly with dogs, and enjoys cooking - both things that could be dangerous, but something his parents don’t restrict him from doing.
“You just have to be on the lookout - whether he’s going to cut something with a knife or touching something hot - you have to be very mindful,” Joe said. “It’s the life we’ve been given.”
The Diminos, along with their 16-year-old son, Zen, have adapted to practicing precaution in about everything to keep Miles safe.
“You have to keep an extra eye on everything that is going on,” Joe said. “There’s never really a moment in your mind of taking yourself away anywhere. There’s never any break of any kind of contact or thinking about how he is doing or his well-being.”
Raising a child with special needs can also be straining on a couple’s relationship as a man and wife. The Diminos are aware that they need to make time for each other while caring for their sons.
The divorce rate for couples who have a special needs child is about 80 percent, Joe said.
But in celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary on July 17, he and Carrie have cultivated what lured them together - and their love for each other and for Miles - is a huge part of that equation.
While some see autism as a burden, or as something weird, the Diminos strive to live life to the fullest.
“My philosophy is lets just get out and do it,” Joe said. “There is no need in putting up any kind of barriers to anything.”
A soon-to-be fourth grade student at Gladden Elementary School, Miles is interested in about anything a boy his age might be, including sports, and has to be actively engaged every waking moment of the day.
Miles competes in his school’s Special Olympics program, where he plays bocce ball, runs track and field and participates in bowling and basketball.
He also plays soccer and baseball in the YMCA’s Challenger program. Miles is interested in about anything a boy his age might be - except for the TV.
“He does not like TV so it’s full on engagement,” Joe said. “Everything we do is human engagement and centered around activities that involve doing artwork to throwing the football around.”
The father-and-son pair also blog together about their livelihoods at http://milesalfonsodiminotherapy.blogspot.com.
Joe has been blogging about their journey since Miles was first diagnosed - providing an archive of all the advancements their son has made.
In the present, from blogs from the pool, to updates about school, the digital medium provides an avenue for Joe and his son to capture their daily musings.
The forum also gives the family a voice in the autism community, and even features interviews he’s done with CNN on the autism subject.
“We stay active in the special needs community,” Joe said.
He also speaks out against labels.
“What I think the world needs to understand about autism is that it’s a beautifully-unique way of looking at this world,” Joe said. “In the way our society is structured, there is so much judgment. There’s so many people who are ready to say you’re a bad parent.”