When I found out my daughter was autistic I froze. What in the world was I going to do? I was in the process of separating from my children’s father and moving to South Carolina to be closer to my mother and step father. My children are only 17 months apart and I noticed early on that Erin my youngest, just wasn’t reaching milestones like Casey had. Knowing that all children progress on their own I was worried and watchful. When my daughter stopped making eye contact and laughing and reacting to sounds even if you clapped right behind her head she didn’t jump, I knew something was horribly wrong. Wanting answers I looked up some of her symptoms on-line and it seemed to me that she was fitting under a lot of the qualifications of autism spectrum disorder, I took her to her pediatrician who basically waved me away stating she was fine and would begin to walk, and talk when she was ready. Needing to hear a second opinion I took her to a facility called Baby-steps where they handle autism cases on a day to day basis. After sending me to have Erin’s hearing tested which was fine they called in some specialists and determined within an hour that Erin had autism of the mild to moderate kind, whether she would ever be toilet trained, or walk, or talk would totally be up to her and the therapies she received.
Erin was just about 2 when she was diagnosed and we had many different types of therapists coming into the home on an almost daily basis. Baby-steps believe wholeheartedly in early intervention and the earlier the better. She received Speech, Occupational, and Physical therapies as well as special therapies such as discreet trials also known as ABA therapy. I looked things up on line and read a few books and spoke to the therapists to get some ideas on what I could do to help but it was extremely hard for me especially now that I was a single mom and couldn’t work because Erin could not be accepted into a daycare system, they just don’t have that many of them at all. In Charleston SC where I live there is one preschool/daycare that caters to autistic kids and they have a 2 year waiting list.
Thankfully at age three the public school system took over her case and care and she attended public school in an Early Childhood Education classroom. The teachers and the rest of the school staff, including the therapists, psychiatrist and even the principal were well prepared and familiar with autism and it’s symptoms, what a huge relief that was to me. They started getting Erin speaking by using picture cards, if she wanted a drink of water she had to get the card and give it to them, the same idea with playing with a certain toy, Erin would have to find the appropriate card and give it to the teacher, the teacher would always repeat the word on the card as a statement such as ” Yes, Erin can play with the blocks”. After she had pretty much mastered the cards they added different activities to her daily routines including more cards these with activities and not simply items. They tried to get Erin to say what she wanted while using the cards as back up. For instance once she was potty trained (which took so long to do almost two full years of trying at school and at home but she eventually got it and if she had to use the bathroom she had to find the bathroom card and take it to the teacher while also using her words “can I go to bathroom please.” I was simply blown away at how quickly they were pulling her out of her lonely shell.
She never would make eye contact with me or with anyone and didn’t like to be touched and that all changed due to playing along side other students and teachers during circle time or when sitting at their round table working on projects. They began by lifting the card they were wanting Erin to repeat up to their eye level so that she would have no choice but to look them in the eye even if just a quick look. This worked amazingly well and now at age 9 is constantly asking for hugs and kisses and as for eye contact, she can do it on occasion but not if she is having a particularly hard day. Due to her frustration at not being understood and not understanding she would throw herself down on the ground and have a huge meltdown which is very similar to a hissy fit but an autistic child has absolutely no control over their actions when they hit a certain point. By finding a quiet time out corner where Erin could sit alone, doing nothing but thinking about what had just taken place her meltdowns got less and less and though we do still have them now occasionally she is able to calm herself and come out of it a lot sooner than when she began.
I don’t have a clue where I would have been without the support of the Early Interventionists and the Early Education teachers, aides and therapists. There was a huge team working with Erin daily and they still do. Last year she had improved enough to be integrated into a 2nd grade math class where she thoroughly excelled, math and music are her specialties and areas where she really picks it up fast and correctly. Without the assistance of the public school system and the help of the therapists, school psychiatrist, nurse and even the school principal they all had a hand or two in teaching Erin how to behave and how to get past her disability to actually learn important information.