We are Sean and Annasha Martin and we appreciate the opportunity to share ‘Shayla’s Voice‘, our daughters’ journey with severe autism. Our family’s goal is to be her voice, as well as the voice of others, through our non-profit organization. We strive to not only bring awareness and support for the autism community, but to the special need’s community on a whole.

Our daughter’s journey with autism began with her diagnosis at two years old, and continues to live with today at the age of nine, Our story resembles that of thousands and thousands of kids being diagnosed with autism, however as parents we knew that we needed to make a difference, not just for her but for others as well.


Here’s our story….

Having a child was always a dream and when Sean and I had Shayla, that dream came true. Our 8-pd 3-oz baby girl was placed in my arms and I fell in love with her. She was perfect. Life began, and we continued to dream and plan for our daughter. Then, everything changed when Shayla was diagnosed with autism at two years old. Do we stop dreaming, do we stop planning…wait, what is autism?

Shayla was my first child, so everything seemed ‘normal’. Our girl was growing nicely, meeting milestones, she was ‘normal’. At around 13 months, our daycare began to report concerns. They thought that because of her behavior, Shayla might have autism. We struggled immensely with this; however, we did what we had to do, and so the doctor appointments began.

As each day passed, we became more and more vigilant, and started recognizing the ‘red flag’ characteristics of autism. Shayla’s regression happened quickly. At 18 months, we started losing our daughter, her words, and her independence. I remember like it was yesterday, a day where we were home and Shayla was playing and having fun. She thought it was funny to run around the house yelling…mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy. I stopped her and said ‘ Shayla stop calling me, stop bothering me’. Seven years later, I would give anything to hear her call to me. I long to hear my baby say ‘mommy’.

Now, we know a lot more about autism, a word that was so new and nonexistent in our world. I cried for days after getting the official diagnosis asm moderate to severe autism. Sean was stronger than I was. Our life is all about therapies, day after day, Monday to Friday. People who do not have a special needs loved one will never grasp the immense task of raising a child with special needs.

I still cry, but mostly tears of joy. She has such a beautiful personality, and continues to grow into her own little person. Sean and I have always maintained that Shayla will have a voice. We are her voice by way of  ‘Shayla’s Voice’. Although Shayla is nonverbal, she is not silent! Our motto is ‘Our voices together will strengthen our community’.


Our beautiful, phenomenal, strong, assertive, resilient, confident, intelligent, feisty, diva of a special child has been a true precious gift. If we could, Sean and I would take away her struggles. We live for her. We strive everyday to be the kind of parents she deserves, and we hope she knows this. We are determined to create and leave behind a better, more accepting world for Shayla and all other special needs individuals. For as long as we are still with her, we will be Shayla’s Voice, which we found even through autism.

As we look back and reflect, although we wouldn’t do anything differently, we have identified an opportunity to do better for our precious kids. We created Shayla’s Voice to provide resources for families in our community, solely based on other parent’s personal reviews and stories. Today we spread awareness and support in our community through our Shayla’s Voice website and social media platforms, including being very open and transparent via our social media channels, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

We hope you will follow along with our journey!

About the Author

Bryen writes about local Durham community news, including regional events, municipality updates, entertainment, lifestyle, and the great outdoors. Email him directly if you want your business profiled or know a community member that deserves recognition - bryen@thelocalbizmagazine.com