It wasn’t until Dr. Clemente was a third-year medical student on the mainland that she attended a lecture that explained her brother’s quirks—Asperger’s syndrome. “The heavens opened up and it was like God struck me with a thunderbolt. This is it! This is him!”
Eventually, her brother followed his siblings to the mainland. “My mother was concerned that he was going to suffer as he would be alone and without any of his siblings to support him, especially me,” she says. “I saw how hard it was for my mom to come to terms with the fact that my brother had to leave home and come to the States. But that was in his best interest. She had to let him go. Thank God she decided to do it, but she suffered through it.”
Dr. Clemente cares for children on the spectrum daily. At Staten Island University Hospital, she sees increasing numbers of families. “Often, when families are telling me what their experiences are, it touches home. I know exactly what they’re talking about.”
Her younger brother is now a PhD in political science. He is married. His son is on the spectrum. So is Dr. Clemente’s own 10-year-old daughter, Gabby.
“I knew it right away,” she says. “As early as nine months I could see signs,” including not responding to her name and showing an interest in things, but not people. One morning, when she was a year old, Dr. Clemente said goodbye to her daughter and waved as she prepared to leave her at her daycare. The other children waved at Dr. Clemente, but not Gabby. “That particular day, it really hit me,” she says. Dr. Clemente turned to her mentor to get an official diagnosis for her own child. “I knew all along that this was the way she was going to develop so I was able to get her early intervention, which is critical. I think that made some things very different for her than they were for my brother,” she says. “She's very responsible. She loves to learn. She likes school. I think her future is bright.”