Treating Autism: One Child's Story
An autistic child's mom tells WebMD about the strides her son made in the Early Achievement program.
"I didn't think there was any way he was going to be able to do this,
but it was such a natural setting. At first he did not know how to play with
toys. He would just kind of wander in the little play area and didn't know what
to play with -- he didn't understand what play was. Six months later he was
engaging in play with other children.
"Those six months my father describes as a light switch being turned on.
He went from little scripted sentences to speaking in three- and four-word
sentences. Originally I kept a list of everything he could say -- he only got
up to 30 things. But after a few months, I had to abandon the list because he
had an explosion of language. And I believe it was the program making a
difference. We didn't do anything else. We did not have time to save money for
private therapies. A speech therapist would come to the house a couple of times
a month, because it was free, and I appreciated it, I was grateful to get even
that, but that was pretty much all we were doing.
"At home visits, the teacher came to the home and left me with little
Post-It notes of things I could do. I put it on the fridge: Things like,
organize his toys, and keep the toys in clear bins out of his reach so he had
to ask me for them, not to always -- and this is the hard thing because you
want to anticipate your child's needs and fill them ('It's been three hours
since he had a drink of water!') -- but they taught me how to wait and get that
language from him. It is so hard to know that he is hungry but to have to wait
for him to ask for food!
"Was it worth all this effort? Well, I had never heard him sing. The
best he could do was to make a hand motion when I sang The Wheels on the
Bus. But after six months he was a songbird. It was really amazing.
"Gabe graduated from the program two-and-a-half years ago; he is 5 now.
We were fortunate. Baltimore County just implemented a program based on the
Early Achievement study, and Kennedy Krieger had partnered with Baltimore
County to produce these classes as close to the model as they could be, but
also to include typical peers. He went right into there seamlessly. The class
was very similarly structured, with Kennedy-Krieger-trained teachers; it was
the best thing. Everything falls in line for him.
"We finished out the year, another six months in that program, and that
summer he attended what they call a noncategorical classroom with all kinds of
kids with disabilities in the morning, and a pilot program in the afternoon.
The following year he started another noncategorical program, there he was for
the next year, and this is the second year. About November this year his
teacher emailed me and suggested he go into the regular pre-K program. He had
been going over a little bit already, and I had hoped they would increase his
time. But they said, 'We think he needs to be able to build those
relationships,' so we pulled the band-aid off real fast, and he went from a
class of seven or eight kids to one of 20, and he is doing great. The teacher
just emailed me that he is a pleasure. He is still learning social skills with
his peers. But she says if you were to come and watch the class, you would not
be able to tell who came from the noncategorical class.
"My message to other parents is this: Just listen to your instinct and
gut. No help you get for them is going to hurt them. Erring on the side of
caution and getting early help will not bite you. There is nothing wrong with
trying this, even if you don't yet have a diagnosis. If your child's
communication is not developing, get help for that. You don't need for everyone
to agree on a diagnosis to start getting help for your child."