University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

The Dang Family

Boy jumping off bunk bed
"Grandma Thao is a second mom to the children, an 'alloparent.' She cooks and cares for the children."

Matthew is 8 years old and lives with his parents, Jenny and Bach, his grandmother Thao, and his two brothers and one sister. Matthew was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual disability when he was 3 years old. His brother Levi, age 10, was diagnosed with ADHD, and brother Nicholas, age 6, has mild autism and ADHD.

He loves going to the park and going for rides, but he rarely plays with other children. He receives applied behavior analysis, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, but is still on the waiting list for community living supports. "It can be very stressful trying to juggle day-to-day needs and meet all the responsibilities of the children's different needs," said Jenny. "Especially balancing activities, school, work, and home." Jenny's mother, Thao, is like a second mother to the children and makes most of the meals for the family.

According to a 2014 UCLA study, the prevalence of children with autism is 43% higher among children of parents of Vietnamese descent compared to white Americans. But when Matthew was first diagnosed, and even now, the family notices a lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the children in photos and other autism materials.

The family receives support from neighborhood families, and members of their church, and Jenny's participation on the Iowa Autism Council has provided opportunities for information locally she wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Jenny and Bach hope that Matthew will find someone who will love and take care of him, someone who will "take their place" someday. They dream that Matthew will develop and grown in his talents and skills so that one day he can use those in an occupation he enjoys.

Father and son on couchGrandmother looking at camera