Family moves from Israel to Northeast Ohio to get expert care for son with autism

AKRON, Ohio - Pregnant with possibilities and the beating heart of her baby, in just a matter of hours after Tali Israeli of Israel gave birth to her son, she knew her life and his would be different than imagined.

"After 11 years of marriage, you're waiting for your first baby to be born and then an hour after delivery we knew something was wrong," said Tali.

A deafening silence followed for years, as the Israeli family waited to hear one word from their little boy, Yoav.

"The first reaction is denial. You say, 'no, it's not true,' and then there is the stage where they offer you treatment and you tend to deny that too because you think that you can do better," remembers Aviad Israeli, Yoav's father.

Not long after the birth of Yoav in America, his family moved back to Israel, where doctors gave a grim prognosis for the future.

"When he was around four, four and a half, they said that he would never walk, never talk; he will never be, they told us to give up," said Tali. "They said we were in a big denial."

Yoav's family never stopped believing that their son, who was diagnosed with autism and other conditions, would one day defy expectations.

He developed a close relationship with his grandfather, a pilot in Israel. They would often fly together; Yoav began mimicking the sounds of the planes he loved.

"My dad took him to fly and every time my dad took him to fly we saw a progress in his development and you could see every time my dad did something with him he will walk better, stand better, he will say another sound," explained Tali.

Yoav's parents say he started to speak soon after and then began to excel. Yet there was still instability in his life.

"In Israel, acceptance of autism or any kind of disability is not like in America," said Tali.

Yoav told his family he wanted to go to high school where it would be "quiet" and asked if they could move back to America. So the family made the decision to leave everything behind for the love of their son.

"I knew he was going to excel; I just didn't know how much," said Aviad.

Yoav, never missing a beat, lit up telling the story of how he became bilingual.

"I would watch CNN in Israel and that's the way I taught myself English," said Yoav.

Now, 20-year-old Yoav's razor sharp memory and attention to meticulous details have helped him soar in his studies. He has a job, drives independently and is studying at Kent State University, where his father is employed, with the aim of becoming a flight engineer.

Yoav says flying with his grandfather feels "like heaven."

He is taking off to new heights thanks in part to specialists at the Cleveland Clinic Children's Center for Autism where he started going as a teenager. Dr. Veena Ahuja, a child psychiatrist at the Clinic, says autism spectrum disorder is found in one in 68 children and Yoav's success is one of many at the center.

"People often think of autism as kids who always need help or you get the stereotype they're going to have to be in an institution and they can't be independent."

"Yoav is very, very different from that stereotype. He is a special guy and you see every time how much he's progressing and how much more confident he becomes," said Dr. Ahuja.

His life is a continuing lesson in shattering expectations by others who didn't have the vision to see. Autism doesn't mean you can't; it means you can and will -- just a little differently-- like the Israeli family says, as long as you believe.

"Everything is possible for me, no limits," said Yoav, about his bright future.

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