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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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"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."

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Reviewed on March 27, 2008
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