“I just want to give other parents hope. Early intervention is so important. As soon as you see signs of a developmental issue, ask your pediatrician.” – Maria, Christina’s mom

A recently released survey suggests that one in 45 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The unfortunate reality is that there are not enough therapists to work with the rapidly growing number of young children with ASD. To address this challenge, Easter Seals is partnering with the Marcus Autism Center on an innovative project called Autism Navigator. The program offers our special instructors hands-on training to increase their skills in working with young children with autism. One child who benefitted from this program is Christina.

Christina’s pediatrician referred her to ESNG’s early intervention program, Babies Can’t Wait, when she was two years old. At that point, she could not communicate nor participate in reciprocal play.

An evaluation showed that Christina had a sensory disorder, speech, and developmental delays. A team of therapists realized that Christina would most benefit from special instruction. A special instructor works across disciplines - physical, speech, and occupational therapies - to help children and their families work toward their developmental goals.

At just over two years old, Christina began weekly therapy sessions with Susan at Christina’s house. Susan first helped Christina communicate using sign language and later progressed to words and sentences! Susan also helped Christina’s mom, Maria. “Having Susan come to our house made a huge difference in Christina’s growth. She was comfortable, and I was able to see what they were doing,” Maria said.

After a couple of months of therapy, Susan had an incredible opportunity to pilot an innovative service through ESNG’s partnership with the Marcus Autism Center. Through their Autism Navigator, Susan wore an earpiece and web camera to her sessions with Christina. An autism specialist at the Marcus Autism Center coached Susan on how to best help Christina learn how to calm down and play with others. “Christina immediately took to what I was doing thanks to the autism specialist’s advice,” Susan said.

Christina’s developmental growth was profound. After only eight months in the program, Christina is speaking in simple sentences, can play with her siblings, comprehend and follow instructions. Now, at three years old, she attends a half-day preschool with typically developing children. She can play with and talk to them.

Susan has been a special instructor for 20 years and had never seen a child respond so quickly and so well to therapy as Christina did. Susan said, “I have worked with children on the spectrum for a long time. I learned so much from the Autism Navigator program. The beauty of the program is that all the children I see will benefit from the program. It has made me a better special instructor, and I see that in how Christina blossomed.”

Christina’s mom benefitted from the program, too. “I learned so much from Susan. I learned how to help Christina calm down and communicate. Every day I did something Susan did with Christina during their play dates,” Maria said.

Maria realized that early intervention is key to helping her daughter reaching her goals. She wants other parents to know that a diagnosis is not the end – it’s the beginning. “It’s going to get better if you learn how to act and how to help your child,” she said.

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