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.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now, but here goes our testimonial about our experiences at ICAN Center for Autism (LCA) in Issaquah, WA. If you have any specific questions feel free to e-mail me directly and I can answer them as best as I can.
LCA has been the primary autism therapy for our now 4 year old son since he was diagnosed in August 09. From day one we knew that we wanted and needed to move to Japan, so we made a bit of a radical decision and decided to focus on private 1-on-1 therapy at LCA instead of putting him in longer programs at public school. When I look back, I believe 100% that it was the right decision to make. We are moving to Japan on the 28th so his last day at the center will be next week.
I could not be more satisfied and happy with the care that he has received at LCA. Not only do they exemplify professionalism and cutting edge care, they have shown more tenderness, patience and love with our son than I could expect. They literally treat us like family and we are so sorry to have to separate him from the loving environment they provide.
Our son has been going 5 days a week, 3 hours a day since September. Rain, shine, snow the therapists have been there for us. They were flexible enough to allow us to attend the therapy when it was clear we had some separation anxiety issues to work through (both for us and him!), and the experience we gained in watching the “floortime” techniques in person has proven to be invaluable…some of them are so simple I can’t believe we couldn’t figure it out on our own, but other techniques are more subtle and we still have to struggle to be cognizant of whether or not we are employing them at home properly.
To cut to the chase LCA employs a very flexible DIR program (including but not limited to Floortime). My intuition is that you might see this in action and wonder if it is really working, or wonder how it could compare in effectiveness to more traditional ABA approaches. However, I can say with confidence that I highly doubt that a system that doesn’t have the flexibility of this one, would be able to include the child’s unique sensory profile, their individual personality, difficulties and strengths. He has in the end received Autism Therapy, Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy at this center. We stopped attending and started dropping off, and by today going to LCA is the highlight of his day. He knows every nook and cranny of the building and everyone working there knows him very well. Where at the beginning he was infamous for throwing tantrums and somewhat wreaking havoc, today he giggles as he grabs people by the hand to get his favorite tricycle or toy of the week.
Our son was almost completely non-verbal in the Fall, and his stimming was pretty severe some days. He had actually regressed in behavior and language from when he was 2 and 3. He was not considered on the end high or low end of the spectrum, but somewhere in the middle. Today he has made huge progress since then. His eye contact is much improved, his actions are almost always intentional, his shared interactions have increased and most importantly for him his body regulation is much, much improved and we have learned techniques that have almost naturally been embedded within our day to day life. He is speaking more and more to get what he wants, and lately he has said some pretty cute things like “see you later” where before it was single word only. It’s easy to forget about the huge amount of progress, because it came slow and steady.
The last two weeks the therapists keep claiming that he has had his “best day ever”. Today (February 17) he apparently sat down at a table with peers, touched a girl’s arm and put his head on it, was imitating them and then calling the name of the girl he had just met as she left the room, then afterwards looking for her while calling her name. This was almost tear jerking for me to hear, because it such a good show of progress. LCA’s therapists are youthful and energetic, while still showing incredible amounts of patience and understanding. They are not stuck in the past and show willingness to adapt and change to each individual’s challenges.
My first eureka moment came when during one of the first visits, we entered their large (and popular) “motor room” and sat down to observe the therapy. The therapist grabbed a bin, opened it, and started tossing little rubber bouncy balls very gently towards our son. Our son snapped to attention, and played for a good 15 or 20 minutes with a single activity, while giving great eye contact and asking for help. This was at a low point too! It is almost magical to watch the difference suddenly take place, when someone who is very good at doing this engages them. I think I am pretty good at engaging, but I don’t think I can compete with these therapists and some of their natural and trained ability to do this with consistency and effectiveness.
I personally think the techniques that LCA uses must be employed in abundance to be effective. The progress is hard to notice because it comes so subtly. I think if we put a little bit more effort into ABA outside of these therapies he might be speaking a little bit more for example, but honestly we just had no room in our schedule to do anything but one extra speech therapy at Bellevue Pediatric Speech & Language.
To put it bluntly, the therapy he received at LCA blows away the therapy we received at PS&L, although PS&L was only once a week it was clear to us that on almost every level LCA was more effective and fun for him to visit. They have such a large amount of toys and fancy gear at LCA that I had to ask how they got such a gigantic collection. It seems that the owners of LCA really, really care about what they do, and they often pitch in their own money to buy these toys, fancy swings, and one of the owners themselves built the helicopter and swing structures that you can see on the webpage.
So in closing I can say that LCA may not be a good fit for everyone, but I honestly believe that their techniques and environment is great for kids who need to be pulled into the shared world. I don’t have direct feedback about their preschool program, but one of his therapists is one the teachers and I have seen the students from that class do great and creative things. I have to imagine it will be hard these days to get such an intensive schedule set up as our son has, because they seem to have more and more clients lately. We have never had to spend a penny for him to receive care here due to our truly awesome Premera benefit program.
Please, take this for what it’s worth, as one person’s highest and heartfelt recommendation.”