The reality star reflects on her own development as a mom of an autistic child.
Bergener claims she initially noticed a “problem” on her son at the age of 18 months, when his few words started to deteriorate. Despite months of assurances from her friends that her child was “fine,” the real housewife brought James to a speech pathologist in May for an evaluation, when she discovered he had autism, which “completely devastated” her.
“The word autism just feels like cancer in many ways when you’re a parent. It’s just such a big word and it can overwhelm you,” she said to PEOPLE. “My own personal struggle was my lack of education. I did think it was a death sentence.”
She goes on to say, “I was mourning the loss of the life that I thought that my barely 2-year-old son was going to have,” adding that she left the appointment and simply cried in her car.
Bergener enlisted the aid of speech pathologists and physicians to enroll James in early intervention programs when it became distressing to witness her kid struggle. She believes the programs have helped him “improve leaps and bounds.”
The “RHOC” actress regrets not following her “maternal intuition” and the time she wasted prolonging James’ first examination since others indicated there was nothing wrong.
“I lost a couple months because I was factoring in everybody else’s opinions,” Bergener added. “And that’s on my list of regrets on my deathbed, that I wasted months just being convinced of something that I knew in my gut was true.”
“It is very scary because, you know, you’re fighting for something that you don’t even want to believe yourself, which is a very strange head space to be in. You can be feeling very alone but you have to trust your gut.”
James has trouble interacting and establishing eye contact with others, according to the mother of two, but her daughter Coco has been an important part of his growth since she educated the 7-year-old what autism is.
“I sat my daughter down without tears, just a big smile and explained, ‘Isn’t this fascinating? Look at how baby brother’s mind works, like he knows all of his numbers.’ And I just made it play based,” she explains, adding that Coco is “very patient” with her brother and helps him improve his social skills.
Coco, Bergener’s “mini me,” has been a “model” for her son. However, for herself, her “own ignorance” first hampered her parenting and comprehension of “what the spectrum meant and the amazing things these kids can accomplish.”
“The fact that he knows his numbers and letters and he’s so bright, and he’s signing and he has such great interest and such a great vocabulary, even though he’s nonverbal,” Bergener further said. “In the last couple months, I’ve had to become fluent in him and it’s been a beautiful journey.”
Bergener also stated that she can sense him become more “empowered” as he progresses through his early intervention programs.