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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.

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"At the bottom of the stack of forms the psychologist gave me was an ad for Dr. [Rebecca] Landa's research study. I applied and got wait-listed -- but it was the first time someone did not accept a placement, and we got it, and it was a real gift. There was only a month between the diagnosis and starting the program, in June 2005. He was 2 1/2 years old.

"I knew about Kennedy Krieger and had heard about this program on TV without realizing it -- I'd seen Dr. Landa on the Jane Pauley Show. The only reason I know now is that it re-aired. I had heard of Kennedy Krieger and knew their reputation, and initially I was told the study was full, so I asked if Gabe could be in the control group, because at least I wanted the assessment and opinion of experts. But there was a strange turn of events and they found a match for him and got him in the study.

"It started with orientation. All the parents were sitting around the snack table, and the teacher told us what we would be doing in the class. I remember her saying the kids would transition themselves from one activity to another by checking their picture schedule and singing a little song. All the parents were nodding and I nodded, too, but inside I thought, 'There is no way he will do this.' My son screams any time a demand is placed on him -- he didn't even respond to his name. I thought we'd be the first ones to get kicked out of the study.

"Within the first two weeks the doors opened, and we were picking up our kids, and the teacher said, 'Gabe checked his schedule, all by himself.' I knew then I would never say 'No way' about Gabe again, because he has continued to amaze us. They offer us a parent program that does not get enough credit.

"You know, I had only had the diagnosis for a month, and the information was so overwhelming -- those things that say 'autism is forever' -- it was overwhelming and scary. I threw the books down, I was overwhelmed -- but this parent training was a hand-holding through this first scary time of 'What is right? What is real? What do I need to focus on right now?' I can't imagine where I would have been without that support. For me it was huge.

"At the time Gabe was just a little guy, he had a lot of anxiety, he was still anxious. I got to observe him through the two-way mirror. I was there all the time with my nose stuck to the glass, watching how they spoke to him, what they did, and I learned so much from that. He was in a communication workout atmosphere where every minute he was working. They were trying to get him to communicate in so many ways, in ways that did not feel like work for him. He did not like work at all. Every day he did this one-on-one with a teacher, every day working on demands. That was his least favorite time, but he got through it because he knew he wasn't going to sit there forever. Shortly the bell would ring and he would get to check his schedule and go somewhere else. So he sat through it knowing it would end soon, knowing he could make it.

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