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Thursday, May 30, 2024


Mom Finds Early Intervention Key to Living With Autism

Mom Finds Early Intervention Key to Living With Autism

By Karen Knight

Justin Davis Jr. and his mom, Shadea Murphy, credit the staff and programs at Ocean Academy with the progress Justin has made living with autism.
Justin Davis Jr. and his mom, Shadea Murphy, credit the staff and programs at Ocean Academy with the progress Justin has made living with autism.

Sponsors fundraiser, community event to raise awareness

RIO GRANDE – Nine years ago, Shadea Murphy was a young first-time mom who started noticing small developmental delays with her baby son. She brought it to her pediatrician’s attention, who diagnosed her son, Justin Davis Jr., with autism.

Justin Davis Jr., a fourth-grader at Ocean Academy, loves basketball, music, singing and sharing facts he’s learned in school.

To this day, she credits early intervention, along with her acknowledgment and acceptance of the diagnosis, as the reasons why her son is doing so well.

“Nine years ago, an autism diagnosis was not as prevalent as it is today,” Murphy said. “I was 19, Justin was my first child, but I knew there were some developmental delays. It was a lonely journey at the beginning, finding resources and getting therapy here in Cape May County.

“But there is no shame. We have to be open and advocate for our kids. If we can’t get them the help they need, then we are cheating them of what they deserve. We are our kids’ biggest advocates.”

Justin now attends Ocean Academy, part of the Cape May County Special Services School District, where he is in the fourth grade and doing “incredibly well,” according to his mother. She described her son as someone who loves basketball, music, singing songs and rap. He also loves to share facts he’s learned at school.

“He’s pretty high-functioning,” she added, “and with a lot of therapy, is now verbal and can hold conversations.”

He still exhibits some signs associated with autism, such as hand-clapping, but Murphy credits Ocean Academy with “helping her son excel in the most amazing way.”

Jayla Davis, 8, looks out for her brother, Justin, 9, who was diagnosed with autism as a baby.

Because of her own difficulty finding resources, she now sponsors an annual autism awareness GoFundMe fundraiser and event to help bring the community together, build friendships and share resources. This year’s event, the third annual, takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the MLK Center, Main Street, Whitesboro.

“I decided to donate the funds to Ocean Academy because the team there is phenomenal and continues to be a pivotal part of every student’s life,” Murphy said. “Our goal is to teach all children to be accepting and to build a strong network, for not only our loved ones, but our entire autism community as well.

“Last year, we raised $1,665, and we are expecting to surpass that this year.”

Murphy also hosts a special needs caregiver support group at the Shore Family Success Center, a community-based family center that hosts classes, workshops and family activities in Rio Grande.

Need Early Intervention or Diagnostic Help?

If you have a child who may need diagnosis or early intervention, here are some suggested available resources:

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at


Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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