My son Noah received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in February of 2009, at the age of 3 and ½ years old. Prior to that, I had noticed behaviors that seemed different compared to my daughter, who was born 2 years before my son. Even at that young age, I could see my daughter making eye contact and engaging with me in a way that my son had not yet demonstrated. I didn’t think anything of it, until I could see the contrast between them. Those differences and the fact that he really had not yet been able to speak, except for repeating phrases he heard on a DVD about tractors that he loved, prompted my husband and I to get him evaluated at the University of Washington, where he eventually received his diagnosis.
When we heard the official diagnosis, I was devastated. A million thoughts swirled inside my head—Would he be able to speak? Would he forever be in his own world? Would he be able to make friends? Have a “normal” life? Have a job? Have relationships? Get married? I was initially in shock, but then I felt that we needed to do everything we could in order to give him the best opportunities in life to deal with this condition. We started with Noah attending a special education preschool in the public school setting, in which the staff seemed compassionate and motivated, but the program was not specifically for kids on the Autism Spectrum. We then heard about ICAN Center for Autism, which was just opening its doors in the summer of 2009, and were hoping that it would make a difference. He started preschool there that summer.
It was a rough start. When my husband would drop him off in the mornings, he would cry, clinging to his leg. If there wasn’t enough transition time, he sometimes would have a tantrum in the lobby. He would hide out in one of the play structures of the classroom, not wanting to engage with teachers or peers. He would refuse to initiate or respond to peers, often not looking at them. He was content to play by himself, not having any interest in joining in play with his classmates.
But as time went on, things changed. Drop-off was addressed by his teacher, Crystal, who would help him transition with verbal and visual prompts. She was firm but gentle with him, and he seemed to respond to it. He became more comfortable with his teachers, all of whom have been enthusiastic, caring and positive in their outlook. His speech therapist, Carmen, worked with him on how to engage with adults and peers, and he would often walk around the center with her encouraging him to try and talk with others who happened to be around. His occupational therapists, Shana, and then Sarah, helped him with his physical needs, and his coordination, along with his self-confidence, developed. He became more interested in playing with peers, and he really started to respond to them, and actual enjoy playing with them. He became a part of a social group, which helped him with interacting and negotiating with others in a group setting.
It has been about 3 and ½ years since Noah received his diagnosis. He is now 7 years old, and is in 1st grade at the local public school. He had initially received services through the public school system, but since earlier this year, he did not meet the criteria for those services. He is no longer receiving therapies for his diagnosis at ICAN. When I look at him, it’s incredible to think of the changes that have occurred within him. I think of this the most when I drop him off at school in the mornings, as he easily transitions to greeting his best friend and walking with him into school, joking and laughing as they go through the doors. I am forever thankful for the part that ICAN, with its wonderful staff and comprehensive therapies, has played in my son’s amazing transformation.