Dave Gnadt doesn’t take the little things in life for granted. Especially his young sons, Anthony and Nicco, a boy with melt-dad’s-heart blue eyes and autism.
Autism mysteriously weaved itself into their lives, with an official diagnosis when Nicco was 3, but Dad’s instinct told Gnadt something just wasn’t right a year and a half before. People assured Gnadt, a single dad at the time, Nicco was just a slow learner. Gnadt wasn’t familiar with autism’s reach.
"I was scared to death, to be honest with you," says Gnadt, a firefighter who lives in Roselle, referring to the diagnosis. "… I didn’t know what the future was going to be."
Nicco, now 8, falls about in the middle of the spectrum. He’s affectionate, but he can’t hold a conversation. He spends part of his day, along with an aide, in the regular second- grade class at school.
Gnadt thrills at his son’s giant steps, admittedly expected steps in normal childhoods, from potty training to imaginary play.
"Nicco is who we’ve come to love," Gnadt says. "…To me he’s a big ball of love."
Autism has touched Anthony, too. Protect your brother, love your brother, he’s been taught. One day, Gnadt knows, the boys will only have each other.
"It’s hard because your boys are your boys and they are supposed to grow up to be men," Gnadt says.
Gnadt has high hopes for his boys. For Nicco, he doesn’t care if that means college or working at Target stacking boxes. "I want the best for him. My general hope is that he can function in society. As long as he’s happy, that’s all we care about,"
And now, with stepmom, Erica, they are happy. The family is taking autism on together.