Maria Madrid has dedicated her life to caring for her son with whom she can’t communicate. Joshua Cruz is a 9-year-old with big, dark eyes. He was born in Yoro, Honduras. When he was 1, his mother said he started to hit and punch himself and others.
He was later diagnosed with severe non-verbal autism and impulsive behaviors.
“He would hit himself against the walls, on his arms, on his head,” said Madrid. “He has to use a protective helmet. We’ve tried to get him to use kneepads, but he just gets frustrated and it’s very hard.”
A few months later, another diagnosis added epilepsy.
“They’re silent attacks,” said Madrid, 30. “He could be fine, and suddenly he falls to the floor. His hands get ice cold, and when he gets up, he becomes aggressive.”’
Joshua is constantly hitting her, she said, giving her bruises. He only eats certain food textures. He has the mentality of a toddler and is obsessed with train toys.
“He has no social life,” she said. “And we can’t get adapted to Miami either, because we can’t go out anywhere with him.”
Madrid needs assistance to set up Joshua’s room so he can receive therapy at home. The family also needs economic help to pay for rent and fees for the immigration attorney who is working on Joshua’s legal status.
Joshua did not receive any behavioral therapies until two years after they immigrated to the U.S, his mother said. He was already 5.
Madrid applied for asylum for her and her son and arrived in Dallas in 2014, moving in with her mother. In Texas, she reconnected with Angel Romero, whom she had met 10 years earlier in Honduras. The two married, then moved to Miami in 2018.
“It was so hard for me to work, because of Joshua,” she said. “My husband Angel had a job secured here. And I heard therapies were better in Miami.”
Romero is the sole income provider for the family.
“I never imagined I would experience this,” he said. “It has really changed my life. Sometimes it’s hard, but I don’t regret it because they both need my support and love.”
Since Madrid came to the U.S. with Joshua, his birth father has not communicated with them, she said.
“Since he was diagnosed, his father stopped accepting him,” she said. “His grandmother said he was badly raised. She told me he needed to be taken to church more than to the doctor.”
After considerable work, Madrid said she was able to get Joshua’s birth father to give her full custody, which she needed to continue with the family’s immigration paperwork.
She said she expects to hear a final decision on her legal status next year.
“That is another fear I have,” she said. “Because, if I get deported, I don’t know what is going to happen to Joshua.”
Since Joshua doesn’t have permanent status yet, he does not qualify for Medicare or any Social Security benefits. However, his family has asked for him to be granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which allows undocumented children to stay in the U.S. due to past abuse, discrimination or negligence by one or both parents. The legal fees are almost $6,000, and approval might take up to a year. So far, they have only been able to pay $1,500.
In addition, Joshua needs his room to be fitted with cushioned walls to help keep him from hurting himself.
At the end of July, Madrid was diagnosed with COVID-19 and had to be quarantined from the family. Romero had to stop working for a few weeks to care for Joshua. Romero, who works in roofing, was not paid during those weeks.
“It is a bit complicated for me to supply everything we need for us,” he said. “Joshua has so many needs and we have so many bills to pay.”
Madrid wants to work and help with the bills.
“But Joshua needs help throughout the whole day,” she said. “Without medication he doesn’t sleep, without help he doesn’t eat.”
And those medications are paid out-of-pocket.
The family has had some help. The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities in Miami has helped Madrid with consultations and recommendations on how to get Joshua treatment. In October, Joshua received free behavior and language therapies from The Lotus Children’s Foundation and Act4Me.
And, at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Epilepsy Center, Joshua was able to see a neurologist, with visits paid for by the autism center. But he needs exams that are expensive and not covered by any agency or program.
Joshua’s school, Arcola Lake Elementary in Miami, often calls Madrid to ask her to pick up her son early.
“It’s a battle at school,” she sighed. “I have no problem picking him up, I know how aggressive my kid can get, but he needs an education. Just because Joshua has a special condition doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to learn.”
For Joshua to be able to stay in class, she says, he needs a personal aide assigned by the district to stay with him all school hours and help control his behaviors.
“We have been waiting since January of last year for the school to approve it,” said Madrid.
“On Oct. 12, the school agreed to move ahead on the request, petitioning the district for the aide.
“She has been struggling with a lot of adversities when finding services to her son,” said Ivan Deveaux, Joshua’s case manager at the autism charity. “I wish there were more things for us to help her.”
“She always puts on a smile, she’s always there to help her son and believes in him,” said Deveaux. “Despite everything she’s gone through, she sees so much potential in him and that speaks greatly of her character.”