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Treating Autism: One Child's Story

An autistic child's mom tells WebMD about the strides her son made in the Early Achievement program.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Stories about children with autism are not always happy. But when Debbie Page tells about her son, Gabe, it's a story of hope.

The Pages are lucky, in a way: Gabe, born in February 2003, is not as severely impaired as other children with autism. And the Pages, who live outside of Baltimore, are also lucky that Gabe was diagnosed and, most importantly, treated early in life through a program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Gabe may not be typical of most kids with autism. But with earlier identification and treatment of children with special needs, it's very possible stories such as Gabe's will be the rule rather than the exception.

Page spoke to WebMD about her son: 

"I knew very early on, even when Gabe was an infant, things were not going as they did with our [then] 3-year-old daughter Emma. He was not hitting all his milestones when he should, and he had habits that were confusing to me. I was not too alarmed initially. He had this hum -- like a mantra he would do to calm himself -- humming until he was out of breath and then he would do it again. But he was also slow to reach milestones in development. I was told not to worry, that boys develop slower -- but a lot of his motor growth was delayed, and I became very concerned when at 1 year he still was not walking.

"I went to the doctor, and he said, 'Well, why not give the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program a call.' So we sought help for what they called 'gross motor skills and developmental delay.'

"And being the kind of mom that likes to know the worst case, I googled developmental delay. Autism came up. For me, my only reference to autism was [the movie] Rain Man, and I thought, 'That is not my son.'

"But I clicked on the links, and several things on the autism checklist were there. He had words but did not use them to communicate. He had some scripts that he would say, but he could not ask for a drink when he was thirsty or even point to his nose -- and he was reaching age 2 at this point. He said, 'All done,' a lot, and that meant many different things. He had a high-pitched scream that was very alarming and he did flap his arms. He had some, but not all of the items on the checklist. So I started asking the doctor, 'Could he have autism?'

"The response I got was -- nobody really believed me. So I insisted they get him tested anyway, and finally a psychologist came to my home and tested him. That's when we first heard the term 'mild autism.' He was diagnosed as high-functioning mild autism. Once she gave me her findings, this is when we turned to the Kennedy Krieger Early Achievement program.

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