According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The French family is all too familiar with that statistic - three of their four boys are on the spectrum.
With their oldest child, the French family was unaware of Easter Seals North Georgia’s Babies Can’t Wait program. He received early intervention care through a private provider. Through that therapy, Hunter has blossomed.
Their second child, Andrew, was diagnosed with ASD and started speech and occupational therapy through Babies Can’t Wait shortly after his second birthday. At that point, the doctor said his development was on equivalent to a 3-6-month-old verbally and a 6-9-month-old, respectively. Needless to say, he had some extreme developmental delays. He did not respond to his own name, he had terrible tantrums and would pace back and forth.
For a year, Andrew received one-on-one in-home therapy. His mother, Stephanie, saw a huge improvement in his functioning. It took some time, but between the weekly therapy sessions and his parents continuing working with him the other days, they began to see his social skills developing.
“Through therapies Andrew received I could see that he was learning to focus, work one-on-one and work with other kids. It really set him up for success. I could also see the benefits of early speech through his expanding vocabulary. If we hadn’t done that whole year with Babies Can’t Wait with speech and OT we would not have been set up for success as he aged out of the program,” remembers his mom, Stephanie.
Their third son, Jacob, was a year old when his parents noticed that he was having some developmental delays as well. Stephanie immediately contacted her Babies Can’t Wait area service coordinator, Dulcie. She came out to their house the very next day and evaluated Jacob. She set him up with speech and PLAY therapy, an innovative hands-on approach to helping engage children on the spectrum.
For the next two years, his therapists worked with Jacob, his parents, and his brothers. His mother saw tremendous growth in his milestones from their hard work. At age three, he was starting to speak, including putting some words together to create understandable sentences. The therapists knew that having so many brothers was important in Jacob’s therapy. They used them to help with socialization and teaching conversation skills.
More important to his mother was the behavioral techniques Jacob was learning from PLAY therapy. The therapist could easily redirect him, calm him down and get him to focus. Because of this, Jacob became more social and expanded his play skills.
Stephanie participated in all the therapies. Even though she had three other children to tend to, she loved learning what she could do with them. “I would watch every week and learn things to work on. Watching them gave me ideas for games to do with the kids,” she said.
Today, Andrew is 7 ½ and attending private kindergarten with the help of a private behavioral therapist. Last year, the therapist had to join him in class five days a week, but this year, she comes only three days a week. Stephanie reports that he is extremely social - even having a girlfriend at school this year. He plays with his brothers and wants to be with other children. Stephanie says his biggest accomplishment, though, is that he is excited and proud of his accomplishments. “That is a very big deal for autistic children,” she said.
Recently, she ran into an old friend of hers that hadn’t seen Andrew since his diagnosis. She said, “She was absolutely floored with how far he has come. And it’s all thanks to early intervention.”
Jacob, now 5, will be attending an inclusive, collaborative pre-kindergarten. It is a class with typically developing children and a paraprofessional trained in special education. She believes that Jacob’s exposure to early intervention has helped him become more verbal and social, which will set him up for success as he begins school.
To Stephanie the therapists were not just there to help her children, they also helped her. Her life with four children, three of whom were on the spectrum, was very stressful. The therapists always offered to help her in any way they could. Dulcie helped transition Andrew and Jacob into traditional school system therapies and all the necessary paperwork.
Even though her experience with ESNG’s Babies Can’t Wait program was several years ago, she still keeps in touch with her children’s therapists. “I always appreciated the personal approach to the program. They loved my children and always wanted them to succeed,” she said.