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  • How Caring For His Daughter On The Spectrum Has Changed Troy Montero As Parent And Person

    Troy and his wife Aubrey Miles's unica hija Rocket is now 4 years old.
    by Jocelyn Valle .
How Caring For His Daughter On The Spectrum Has Changed Troy Montero As Parent And Person
PHOTO BY Instagram/troymontero
  • Troy Montero can't help mentioning his daughter Rocket Miller when asked about his parenting skills. Rocket is the second child of the Fil-Am actor and video content creator, whose real name is Cody Miller, with his actress-entrepreneur wife Aubrey Miles.

    "I’d say one of the best parenting skills that I’ve learned is actually from my daughter," Troy tells Smart Parenting in a brief interview at the first DadBud PH meetup held in April 2023.

    "And that is just to be stressless, to have a calm perspective about everything. Because when I’m with her, I need to be very patient and show her a lot of positive reinforcement even when things are not going our way."

    He points out, though, "You don’t need a child on the [autism] spectrum or special needs to know this, but I’m just sharing with you that if you take a little bit of what we said, maybe it can help you in your day."


    A quiet baby

    In a talk he gave at the dad community's event, Troy looked back from the time Rocket was born four years ago, on December 14, 2018. One thing that struck him and Aubrey was their daughter being "very quiet." He recalled Baby Rocket would be in her crib and just look at them, not laughing or giggling, even if he'd tickler her.

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    Troy also noted that Rocket wasn't even 8 months old when she started walking. So he and Aubrey thought their bunso was just an "early walker," but a "late talker" because she was "basically non-verbal" at that point.

    "But we didn’t think anything of it," said Troy, believing that their bunso and only girl just had a different pace to reaching the developmental milestones compared to her older brothers Maurie (the first-born child of Aubrey who looks up to Troy as a father figure) and Hunter, 13.

    "Aubrey and I were so prepared for my daughter," Troy said. "We’re going to be amazing parents to our first little girl. Little did we know our world was about to be turned upside down. So we started noticing a few things with Rocket. They were different. Something was happening."

    "Mind you, it was also during lockdown," he added, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic era. "So we had so much time at home to observe, to play…Some of the things that we notice of Rocket you can associate with autism.


    "We just did research, and we said, ‘She just hit a few of the markers, but not everything.’ She’s very affectionate. She’s very loving. She wants us to touch her, which is one of the things when you’re on spectrum, sometimes they don’t want to be touched. Ours is different. So we thought, ‘Maybe not. Let’s not self-diagnose this.’ It was the pandemic, everything was closed. ‘Let’s just wait.’"

    Troy shared some of those signs:

    1. Repetitive actions, such as lining up blocks in a certain way, walking on tippy toes a lot, flapping of the hands.

    Troy said he calls Rocket's flapping of hands as "happy hands because that’s an extension of processing her emotions." He explained, "When she does it—because she can’t express her emotions, so she’s flapping her hands—usually, she’s excited. It’s a good thing.


    2. Not acknowledging one's own name. Troy gave this example: "So when we walk in a room and call her name, she’s there playing on the floor, she won’t look. I would go in front of her and see her face to get her attention."

    RELATED: Autism Spectrum Disorder: Symptoms, Red Flags, and When To Have Your Child Checked

    The moment of truth

    Troy said the right time to seek professional help happened after Rocket turned 2 years old. He and Aubrey brought their daughter to a developmental pediatrician, who "took five minutes" to confirm Rocket's on the autism spectrum.

    He recalled how they felt at that time: "My wife and I, even though we were feeling so prepared for this moment, we were thinking, ‘I know what she’s gonna say.’ But as soon as she said it, it blew our minds.

    "I know we were on denial because we never thought what we’re gonna do after this day. So we had no plan. We looked and turned, ‘Okay, what now? What do we do? What can we do for her?’"


    RELATED: Aubrey Miles Blamed Herself For Daughter’s Autism: ‘What Did I Do?’

    As advised by the developmental pediatrician, the couple enrolled their daughter to a speech therapy and an occupational therapy. They also had this goal for Rocket: "Do everything we can for her progress, for her to learn, for her to walk around freely, communicate and express herself the best she can."

    At the same time, Troy admitted, "We were prepared what we taught her kuyas, and we thought we’d give the best version of that. We would talk what worked and the things we learned from our parents. That’s it. My daughter’s gonna get the best version of that. So now we’re basically starting from scratch."

    Caring for a child with special needs

    Two years after confirming that Troy and Aubrey's unica hija is on the autism spectrum, Troy said his family has learned a lot and changed so much for the better.


    "If my daughter is acting out," Troy said, "I cannot reach that level back to her. If she’s shouting, I cannot say, ‘Stop that now, go to your room.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to deflect. You have to go on a different way. It usually means I have to sing to her, I have to hold her, I have to divert her attention somewhere else. In public, it can be challenging."

    He went on explaining, "We try to communicate with her when she’s basically non-verbal. It’s very, very challenging. We do hand signals. You can talk to her, but it has to be done in a delicate way. Eating is always a challenge because she’s very, very picky with her food.

    "Sleeping is definitely a challenge because it’s very hard to tell her to go to sleep or when to wake up. Because she can say, ‘I don’t want to wake up.’ It could lead to a full-blown tantrum, or what we call flooring. That’s when they lay on the floor. They just won’t stop crying, rolling around, flapping her arms. It can be harmful to her and to people around."


    "It’s difficult," Troy acknowledged on what they go through daily with Rocket. "Her behavior in public, paminsan-minsan lang, depende sa area. If she likes what she sees, she’ll get it. She doesn’t like to share. If she sees a child with a toy, she’ll grab it. It’s very hard and challenging. I also have to explain, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ I have to scoop her without her screaming at the top of her lungs."

    How do Troy and the rest of his family manage? Here are some of what they've learned to follow from Rocket's doctor:

    1. Create a daily routine.

    "Because kids on the spectrum they like a routine," Troy explained. "If you give them surprises, they might not accept it. But a routine—waking up at a certain time, eating a certain way or thing. They like that. It gets difficult when we bring her out sometimes."


    He made this clear, though: "Kids on the spectrum are different. I’m just talking about how my daughter is."

    2. Use visual aids and words to match her actions.

    Troy said he has to describe to Rocket everything he's doing. For instance, he tells his daughter, "Daddy is getting milk from the refrigerator." He also says "Open," when he opens the refrigerator, and "Close," when closing it.

    3. Use positive reinforcement always.

    Troy stressed, "Even if she’s screaming at the top of her lungs, whether we’re outside or at home, I have to bring her down. I have to bring her down in a positive way because if you try to match it, shout by shout, it will not work."

    4. Manage sensory input.

    Examples: lights that are too bright in a confined area, like the elevator, or going through a tunnel on an airplane.

    Learning from Rocket

    "All these have taught Aubrey and I how to be very, very patient and lower our stress." said Troy. "How do we do that? We don’t let the little thing get us. Imagine I was so different from I was before. I know because my stress level, I cannot have it here (gesturing near his head), especially when I’m with my daughter. I have to get it somewhere down here (near the waist)."


    He then added, "If I had known this approach, to be able to tap into this relaxation, I’d probably be a lot better how many years ago." Dealing with traffic, for instance.

    "With my daughter, I don’t care about the traffic. What I do, I leave a little bit earlier. I make sure there’s music playing, I’ve got things ready because someone in the backseat could be having a meltdown.

    "I don’t even honk the horn anymore. I used to be that guy. I can’t be that guy anymore. I’m just thinking the way I am now, how calm and how stressless my life is now, I know it could be used for everybody else, too."

    Troy proudly shared this update on Rocket: "She’s a year-and-a-half on therapy. She’s gone from non-verbal to actually saying so many words now and phrases. She can sing happy birthday, she can say mommy and daddy. She can look me in the eye, saying hello and goodbye to her teachers. I know it’s a progress that gets better and better every day."


    Read how Rocket said her first full sentence here and sat through an entire toothbrushing session for the first time here.

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