By T. Anthony BellJune 26, 2018
PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. (June 26, 2018) -- Troubled by their child's developmental delays, Tyrone and Charlotte Marshall sought medical help and received news no parent wants to hear -- the distressing and heart-sinking announcement their son was not normal and would likely require assisted care in the long run.
"I was hurt when we first heard the diagnosis," recalled Tyrone, a retired Army staff sergeant who now works as a contract employee at the Army Logistics University. "I never had to deal (with anything) like this. I was angry, sad and asking questions like, 'Why my son?'"
At least two medical professionals said their toddler Quinton would not "talk, write or read" due to autism spectrum disorder, a condition that is "characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication," according to autismspeaks.org.
Fortunately, a diagnosis doesn't equate to a done deal.
Quinton, now 19 years of age, confidently walked across a Prince George High School stage June 16 to receive his diploma alongside 435 classmates. His verbal, writing and reading skills had helped him to maintain a 3.0 grade point average or better since his freshman year.
Tyrone, cognizant of the moment's finality and touched by its sweetness, waded through the throngs of spectators following the commencement ceremony to be one of the first to congratulate his son.
"When I finally got to him, I just hugged him and we both cried," recalled the elder Marshall. "I said, 'Son, you did it!"
To be more accurate, they did it -- a point the new graduate proudly admits.
"My mom and dad helped me throughout this experience," said Quinton with a calm and dignified voice, "so I've got to take it with me and start a new chapter."
The younger Marshall, whose cool demeanor seems to belie his years, shares his father's underdog fighting streak in his approach to living.
"When life comes, you're not going to be perfect," he said, "but you always have the ability to get back up and start over."
The Marshalls were a challenged couple following the diagnosis. They already had four older children, and Quinton needed fulltime care, so Charlotte -- a Soldier at the time -- shed her uniform and became a full-time mother and advocate for her son. Tyrone, a prior enlistee with a civilian job, returned to the Army to help defray the costs of medical care. Their career moves were buoyed by the commitment to provide Quinton with whatever he needed.
"Once we found out what we could about autism, we made everything conducive to him," Tyrone said. "It was a family deal. Everyone had to pitch in to make sure we had an environment in which he could thrive; in which he wouldn't feel pushed aside or left behind."
Charlotte, being a hands-on and stay-at-home mother, researched the subject matter to no end; learned how to read individualized education programs required of special needs students; and presided over all the lessons during the after-school Marshall Academy. As a teacher to her lone student, one of her biggest endeavors was to create the regimented learning environment many autistic children require.
"Routines are comfortable for them," said Charlotte. "They have to know what they're going to be doing. They just can't watch something and say, 'OK, I got this.' No, it has to be familiar."
To help Quinton retain the learning for everyday tasks, the Marshalls used pictures and storyboards. Every time a task was performed, Quinton would move it aside and complete the next step. This went on for years, according to Charlotte; up until middle school when Quinton began to own the routines and didn't require the visuals.
Charlotte was just as tenacious when it came to being an advocate for Quinton in the public school classroom, Tyrone noted. She questioned educators when she was unsure; confronted them when an issue was overlooked; and conveyed to everyone that her son was worthy of a fair shake at life and a good education. Through it all, Charlotte, who said she was once a hardened disciplinarian as a Soldier, rediscovered tolerance, compassion and patience in raising Quinton.
"This really bought me back to the young lady I was," she said, "because once you leave home, especially with the military, it changes you a little bit. You take on a certain personality. I saw where I lost who I was. Quinton bought me back to being reserved, calm and peaceful."
Helping to raise his son didn't necessarily transform Tyrone, but it did push him to double down on his developed belief autism would in no way be a barrier to Quinton's success or fulfilment. Those who did not subscribe to that way of thinking were stopped at the door, met at the eyeball and stared down to the tissue. He was not having any doomsday predictions in the beginning nor end, and more importantly, was not going pity his son because of his condition.
"Throughout his childhood, I was always in his corner," said Tyrone, who admitted having a bit of a chip on his shoulder because he was frequently told what he could not do. "I didn't care what doctors said. I didn't believe them. My wife used to laugh, but I'd say 'He doesn't have autism.' I heard what they were saying, but I knew what he could do. A lot of times he'd reach that landmark that supposedly he couldn't reach. I knew he could.
"My wife was the loving mom, but I was the dad," he continued. "I'm not the one to feel sorry for you. When he needed the loving and the cuddling, he got that from mama, but when he needed that 'Hey, you've got to stand up and be a man no matter what because this world doesn't care if you have autism' -- that was my role -- because mom and dad are not always going to be here."
In retrospect, the Marshalls said although their roles were somewhat distinct, they were united and committed to the goal of not just providing Quinton a good education but raising him with values and a sense of resiliency.
"I just want him to be successful, no matter what he chooses to do," said Tyrone. "I want him to be confident in himself as a man and know that he can achieve whatever life puts in front of him."
Quinton, an avid illustrator, said he draws frequently and wants to share his talent with others.
"I'm so committed to my gift, and I have a lot of faith in it," he said. "I want to make a TV show or YouTube channel -- a lot of people get paid on YouTube -- that targets young adults."
Quinton has plans to attend nearby Richard Bland College where he will major in business and animation. Like any other high school grad, he is sure to face many educational and career challenges ahead, but the backing of proud parents who approached failures with a "get back up and start over" attitude, should make him an unstoppable character who understands the power of persistence.