At Easter Seals, we encourage parents to track their children’s development. We believe that staying on top your child’s progress and talking to your pediatrician when you notice a potential issue can help identify delays early in your child’s development. One such example of the importance of tracking your children’s development is Katie.

Katie and her twin sister, Kayla, were born seven weeks early, which prompted the hospital to refer their family to Easter Seals North Georgia’s early intervention program, Babies Can’t Wait, in case they noticed any developmental delays. Because her nephew is autistic, the girls’ mom was always paranoid about her children shows signs. So, when Katie was 18 months old, stopped using the 15+ words she had in her word bank and withdrew socially, Katie’s mom immediately contacted Babies Can’t Wait for an evaluation. Katie’s mom said, “As soon as I saw signs of autism, I didn’t want to delay anything. I wanted her to get therapies as early as possible.”

Service Coordinator Laura suggested that ESNG’s Autism Specialist Jan Marie Love assess Katie. Jan Marie conducted the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). She had concerns about Katie’s withdrawn behavior and immediately began autism-specific therapy called the PLAY Project.

Jan Marie comes to Katie’s house once a week to help Katie connect and engage with her family. Jan Marie taught the family to join Katie on activities that she enjoys. “She taught me to let Katie decide what she wants to do, and we will join her. Instead of trying to force her to do something we wanted her to do. We definitely connected better. It really helped,” Katie’s mom says.

“Helping a child who is on the spectrum to come out of their shell and connect to the outside world is the very first step,” said Jan Marie. “From there we can get them to communicate and play with others.”

After Katie and her mom, Nicoletta, established a strong connection, Jan Marie encouraged Katie’s mom to use Katie’s favorite activities – like drawing, running, jumping, dancing, and playing chase – to engage and pull her out. For example, when they play chase, Katie’s mom says, “ready”, and pauses for Katie to make eye contact with her. Once she does, Katie responds with “go”.

Another activity that Katie loves is singing. Jan Marie encouraged Nicoletta to use music to communicate with Katie. Even though mom doesn’t think she can sing well, she feels like it is the best way to engage with Katie. “Katie doesn’t seem to care about my singing. She makes eye contact and uses her words. I love to see her happy like that,” she said.

Music is important in Katie’s relationship with her dad, too. He works a lot and often doesn’t get home until the kids are asleep. When he gets home earlier, though, it’s a dance party. “As soon as he gets home, he turns on the radio in the kitchen, and dances with all the kids. Now, when she sees him, she runs into the kitchen and gets ready to dance even before he’s in the house,” Nicoletta said.

Because Katie’s family participates in the therapies, she continues to progress even when Jan Marie isn’t there. After only three months of therapies, Katie’s connection with her family improved. At two and half years old, Katie makes eye contact, plays with other kids, and warms up to other people much more quickly than before. Nicoletta’s favorite, though, is now Katie snuggles with her. “She never liked even to sit with me before. Now we snuggle every day. It’s the best feeling in the world,” Nicoletta said.

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