Jacy Martinez is trying to build a fort. In the living room, as her 3-year-old son crawls through a play tunnel, she scrounges up blankets and drapes them over the couch, then slides in chairs to prevent it from collapsing.
The last couple weeks, however, it's felt like everything else has collapsed for Martinez. Within 24 hours, Martinez lost both of her restaurant jobs in Spokane. Her boyfriend lost his job days later. And she's seen their 3-year-old son Kenzo, who's autistic and non-verbal, already regress in the week he's been away from his preschool and therapy.
It was something they weren't prepared for at all.
"Everything just seemed to happen overnight," Martinez says.
It's not like she can go find another restaurant job — if she did, there'd be no child care available. And to top things off, she was denied unemployment.
In between all of that, Martinez has been tasked with homeschooling Kenzo. His teachers gave her a packet that included activities that fit under his individual school plan. Building a fort was one of them. Others included puzzles, teaching him to make eye contact, and mimicking sounds she makes. It hasn't been easy — it's one thing to go down the list of what to do in the packet, but quite another to integrate the skills into everyday activities.
The hardest part, however, is that Kenzo benefits from consistency and stability, and he just lost that. She worries for the long-term impact on his development.
"Having those few safe places taken away has been extremely hard," she says, "as well as worrying about all his progress he may lose."
Martinez sees how it's already affected him: He has a harder time eating meals. He now won't sleep without his mom there. And more often, he gets frustrated, which can trigger self-harm like biting his hand or banging his head.
"Every day has been a struggle on its own for me, and I know for him as well," Martinez says. "He doesn't understand why he can't go to school or therapy — the few places that understand him."
For now, at least, there's a fort.