It has officially been one year since my 3 year old son, Harrison, was diagnosed with Autism. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you life has been easy. Because it hasn’t. I can attest to the fact that you don’t really know all the things that go into raising a special needs child until you have one. Everyday life is about patience and adaptation. And learning that just because your life looks different than the moms around you, doesn’t mean it’s less than anything but perfect.
I knew something was up with Harrison around 6 months old. He wasn’t making nearly enough eye contact and wasn’t responding to his name as much as he should. As he got older, he never learned to point, clap, or wave. When we got the referral to the developmental department at Boston Children’s, he was 18 months old and non-verbal. He made a lot of babble sounds, but not with purpose and no actual words. Once he learned to walk/run he would bolt the second his feet hit the ground and take off in any direction that was interesting, usually towards danger. At home, if an object was in reach, he would be crashing it to the ground. We had to remove all our chairs because he would climb onto any high surface he could. There are, however, “signature” ASD sypmtoms that Harrison has never displayed – like he has no problem with loud noises, big groups of people, or physical affection. In fact, he’s super snuggly with everyone.
Once Harrison got diagnosed just after his second birthday, I was aggressive about getting him the best treatment possible. With my background in psychology and healthcare, I knew he needed Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy. ABA is the science of applying experimentally based principles to improve social behaviors. Through focused, purposeful repetition and reinforcement of individually-tailored goals, ABA helps make the neurological connection for the learner, allowing them to create new pathways for better communication, enhanced play skills, and improved social interaction. Because the spectrum of autism and other developmental delays is extremely large, each program is created to specifically fit the needs of each, individual learner.
I found an ABA behavioral preschool and enrolled Harrison immediately. There are only 3 of these schools in my state. The school we went with that we felt was the best fit for our son is 40 minutes away, and Harrison attends the program Monday – Friday from 8 – 3. His baby sister and I commute approximately 3 hours every day dropping off and picking Harrison up. And the out of pocket co-pay for his school? That we pay AFTER insurance? $20,000 per year. For preschool. And it’s worth every penny.
Harrison started school in January 2020, so about 10 months ago. In less than a year, he’s gone from non-verbal to verbal, now speaking between 5-10 words. He can match words to pictures and use age appropriate toys correctly. He’s also learned to use a PECS (picture communication) book and effectively communicates with other people with it. He no longer bolts or runs away, he sits in chairs without climbing on the counter, he doesn’t crash objects to the floor, claps, does high five, fist bumps, and has increased his eye contact tenfold. As this year comes to an end his school will also potty train him and help him learn other activities of daily living, like teeth brushing and nail clipping, that are generally harder for ASD kids to master.
All in all my mind is blown by the progress my lil boy has made in under a year of ABA therapy. It really is the way to go for ASD kids. I can’t recommend it enough!