Alli Baldocchi opens the door of her Manhattan Beach home with the familiarity of an old friend. She settles herself comfortably on the sofa and starts the conversation with the ease and candor of a natural-born storyteller.
A true South Bay girl, Alli is from Manhattan Beach, as is her father and grandfather. Now Alli and her husband, a South Bay local as well, are raising their three boys here. With family photos proudly displayed in the main living space of her home, the smiling faces of Kyle, 12, Caden, 10, and Maguire, 8, tell the story of a playful and happy family.
But it has taken hard work, intense dedication, a village of support and Alli’s own personal journey toward self-discovery to get there. And Alli’s not shy about that.
Her eldest son, Kyle, has inattentive ADHD, though his younger brother Caden was diagnosed with autism first. “Caden was diagnosed when he was 2,” Alli says. “Kyle was in kindergarten, and I had just had Maguire.”
Learning to navigate the individual needs of your children is challenging for any mother of three. What Alli found especially startling, however, was the lack of conversation … of shared resources between parents that allowed the stigma of a label to stunt their stream of communication.
During a time where early intervention was so crucial, Alli didn’t waste a moment; she got straight to work. “When Caden was diagnosed, I just went balls to the wall, full-fledge. I never sat and cried. I never thought it was a sad thing. I was like, ‘What do I need to do to help this kid? I’m going to do it.’”
Now Alli is sharing her experiences—the challenges and the wins—through her blog Velcro Shoes. “I just started writing stories and bringing up memories. I’m being vulnerable and raw and sharing my life,” she says. This has been an exercise of remembrance … memorializing her experiences, and it’s been cathartic for Alli.
But she hopes it’s been informative for her readers as well. “What you don’t know, you don’t know,” Alli says. “No one is going to come up to you and say, ‘Do you know that if you just ask, we can offer you 17 more hours of service for free?’ No one is going to tell you that; they’re going to try and give you the bottom of the barrel.”
In Alli’s own words, she’s not a “sit-back-and-watch” kind of person. But unfortunately, there’s no playbook of next steps for what to do if your child is struggling. Some of what Alli learned came from proactively asking those around her … seeking out members of the community who had been or were currently going through similar situations. Some lessons were learned through trial and error.
Support from family and friends flooded in, including a fundraiser at Trilogy that Alli’s friends put together to help pay for therapy expenses. “I have my girlfriends that will come up to me, and they’ll just stare at me and tell me, ‘I want to tell you how amazing you are.’”
But in addition to the support from loved ones came the hoops Alli and her family had to jump through to receive funding and benefits, the testing and assessments, along with the search for the most ideal educational environment. Still, Alli in many ways is grateful for the diagnosis.
“If you get a diagnosis, then you’re through the state,” Alli notes. “You have this golden ticket now, and you know what to do with it—you have direction, you have benefits. Nobody wants their kids labeled, but if our society wasn’t so judgmental a label wouldn’t matter. He is who he is; be proud of who they are.”
In addition to sharing her own stories on Velcro Shoes, Alli has a Warriors page dedicated to parents looking to feature the gifts of their children. “I want [parents] to write something: What would you want people to know about your kid? It’s like a little spotlight.”
The Women We Admire page is true to its name. “There are some really kick-ass moms out there,” Alli notes.
In addition to her blog posts, Alli has initiated a monthly subscription called the Velcro Shoes Sisterhood that gives subscribers access to tips, resources, Q&As, additional support and live workshops. “It’s basically a safe place where all these moms can come together. You’re going to have support, you’re going to have people sharing and you’re not going to be judged.” Alli is also converting her stories into a book called Not Broken.
“This is my life. I’m an autism mom, which I pushed away for so long,” Alli says. “Not what I was, but the label. But that is me, that is who I am … once I really accepted that and embraced it, my relationship with Caden changed.”
By opening up the conversation, Alli hopes to lift the veil and eliminate the stigma surrounding kids who have special needs. There’s no need to go it alone or to deprive kids of the tools they could benefit from if their parents only knew what to ask for.
“It’s OK that your kids have special needs,” Alli says. “There are so many people who won’t talk about it, and it’s actually pretty awesome if you do. There are so many people you can connect with, and it actually makes you connect with your kid more.