15 Years of Hope: Catching up with Pascal, a Teen with Autism who Started at Hopebridge
September 23, 2020
September 23, 2020
From a 4-year-old tossing a ball into a mini hoop at an autism therapy clinic, to a teenager playing in a basketball league through his school, Pascal has come a long way since he began applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) more than a decade ago.
Pascal began at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center – known as Homefront Learning Center at the time – in its early years when ABA therapy was a relatively new concept to many families and physicians.
Before Pascal had an official autism diagnosis, he struggled with symptoms associated with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), which can lead to seizures and developmental delays. His parents, Anne and Bart, had heard ABA could be beneficial to children with TSC, in addition to autism. Anxious to give their child the best chance at an independent life, they sought out a diagnostic evaluation. Once they learned he was on the spectrum, they jumped at the chance for Pascal to participate in ABA therapy.
“Hopebridge was an absolute godsend for Pascal,” said Anne. “When he first started, there was no way we could have foreseen doing the things we are able to do now.”
Pascal’s parents told us that his early years were tough for him and the family. Though Pascal had been seizure-free for months before starting at Hopebridge, they learned that his brain needed to apply the negative energy somewhere else, which sometimes resulted in maladaptive behaviors.
“Thankfully, his therapist, Clarissa Merchant, was so involved. She was with us during the roughest years and guided us in learning to manage his behaviors,” said Anne. “We knew he was not doing it intentionally. He couldn’t help it, and she gave us the tools to make it better for him.”
Executive functioning and impulse control were two other areas of growth for Pascal while he was at Hopebridge. It took time, but his parents remember working with him to wait five seconds, then onto 10 seconds, and eventually he had the ability to wait for days, if needed.
“When we first started working together, he struggled to communicate his wants and needs and had a difficult time managing his impulses. Now he can share his desires and opinions with others, care for himself more independently and can participate in his community with more ease,” said Clarissa, Hopebridge Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Prior to joining Hopebridge, Pascal did not often speak beyond two or three words, one of which usually included “please” or “thanks.” He attended speech therapy, though Anne and Bart believe it was the integration of speech and ABA therapy through Hopebridge360 that made all the difference.
“ABA was so effective because Hopebridge approached it in a personalized yet holistic way,” said Bart. “For instance, Pascal could say ‘please’ instead of ‘pwease,’ but knowing when to say it and not to say it 40 times in a row was a challenge. ABA taught him how to communicate and get along with people, while also managing his impulses. Everything came together with ABA therapy.”
Like speech, Hopebridge’s complementary therapy program also included occupational therapy for Pascal. OT aided him in building his fine motor skills. By combining ABA and OT, Pascal learned how to dress himself – including the little details of how to put on a t-shirt correctly, how to position it and how to tell if it’s in the correct direction – amongst other foundational skills.
Family training was a part of Pascal’s program at Hopebridge. The team worked to educate and incorporate Pascal’s brother and sister into his therapy, in addition to his parents.
“I really believe Hopebridge helped me learn how to parent Pascal better. They helped me learn how to be more patient and how to replicate center activities at home,” said Anne.
Clarissa believes much of Pascal’s success was not only due to his own drive, but also that of his parents.
“His family quickly took to the commitment that therapy requires. They worked diligently to help us individualize his program to his needs. They were excellent advocates and sacrificial guides as they learned to implement his programs within their own environment,” said Clarissa. “We became close and shared together in the difficulties of many bumps along the way, as well as many triumphs.”
Clarissa specifically remembers this teamwork paying off when Pascal successfully participated in Vacation Bible School at his local church. He learned to use the tool of his visual aids to experience less stress with transitions and the demands that come from such an overstimulating yet fun experience.
Bart told us Hopebridge helped them beyond the center walls, including how to navigate the options available to Pascal through the school system.
“The school system doesn’t always have the resources to explain the details. Hopebridge educated us so we had a sense of our options, how they worked, and which best fit Pascal’s needs,” said Bart.
Pascal participated in therapy at Hopebridge for seven years, so there were a lot of memories made. A few special moments, however, stick out in his parents’ minds.
Anne especially remembers the benefits of a chart Pascal used during therapy. He would earn “frogs” for certain tasks on a reward board. Once he reached 10 frogs, he could play a game on an iPad or choose a prize from a treasure box. The frog chart came in handy when Anne decided to take her three children to a local water park.
“The kids were begging to go to the water park one time when Bart was out of town. I was nervous to take them on my own, but I brought the chart and it helped make the day a success,” said Anne. “This tool helped him learn to wait and understand consequences, both positive and negative.”
Hopebridge’s Halloween party was one of Bart’s favorite moments.
“Our family dressed as Ninja Turtles. The party was special needs-friendly and it was a great community event for all of our kids. Pascal’s siblings knew it was his special place, but it was nice for them to be invited to participate in the fun at these events,” said Bart.
Both Anne and Bart fondly remember Pascal’s transition from Hopebridge. The therapy team planned well in advanced to create what the last couple months would look like for him, all culminating in a graduation party.
“They planned very intentionally. Pascal had gotten close to Clarissa over the years and they were sensitive to the fact he was moving on from these relationships, in addition to therapy,” said Bart.
“We were able to make it a big deal. Cognitively, Pascal may not have understood exactly what was happening, but the graduation party made him feel important and he understood he was moving onto something else. He knew he accomplished something great,” said Anne.
Anne and Bart both believe the skills Pascal picked up at Hopebridge laid the groundwork for his teenage years and will continue into his adult life.
“We regularly look back on our time with Hopebridge and know if we hadn’t put these building blocks in place when Pascal was 4 years old, life would be so much more difficult for him,” said Bart. “He’s now 15 and taller than both of us. Like other teens, he gets disappointed and moody at times, but he knows how to manage it for himself and we know how to talk to him about it.
“Sometimes we still have trouble, of course, but it’s not anywhere near where it was when he was 5 years old. Can you imagine teenage hormones without impulse control? I don’t want to live in that world!” said Bart.
More than 10 years later, his therapist, Clarissa, still has a framed drawing from Pascal to remind her of the impact kiddos, their caregivers and their therapy teams have on each other.
“When we begin working with children with ASD in our ABA program, we are thinking years down the road, aiming to give them the best life possible as an adult as an end goal,” said Clarissa. “Working with Pascal and his family has been one of the greatest joys of my career thus far. It has been so encouraging to look back over time and see the progress he made; truly transforming into a young man with the tools to address his symptoms of ASD.”
Pascal’s love of basketball has not faltered since he was a child. His preferred reinforcer during therapy included shooting hoops on the small net at Hopebridge, and now he plays with the Marion School District’s Unified Basketball League. Created for high school students with varying abilities, Pascal recently enjoyed his first season with this inclusive league and can’t wait to participate again.
Pascal is also a continued fan of the “Power Rangers” since he was 7 years old. His other hobbies include coloring, building with Lego Duplo blocks, and imaginative play with Barbies and other toys, especially when it involves his younger sister. Anne tells us he will work out whatever anxiety he experienced at school through his imaginary play, which gives his family an insight into his day-to-day.
“Pascal has touched so many lives with his cheerful spirit and friendly ways. I’ve missed working with him every day since his graduation day,” said Clarissa. “There are some people who come into our lives for a time and touch us in permanent ways for the better. Pascal’s family may feel this way about our therapy team, but in my experience, they had a lasting influence on me.”
His parents tell us what a caring young man Pascal has grown up to be, and they are so proud of how caring he is toward his friends at school. His teacher told them if he sees someone crying, he tries to comfort them in whatever way he thinks will work for them.
“When Pascal was younger, I used to worry about who he would grow into and what he might not be able to do. I wish I had more people telling us it would be ok because he will be who he is going to be,” said Anne. “Even now, we don’t have all the answers, but that big question mark is not nearly as scary as it was 10 years ago.
“I see what a neat, funny kid we have in our lives. And thank God for that … we all need people who can offer comfort and humor. As parents, it is important to shift our attitude to look at what our children can do rather than what they can’t do,” said Anne.
Do you want to hear more about Pascal and his family’s journey? His father, Bart, shared their story with the world through his book, Holding Hands with Pascal: Following Christ with a Special Needs Child.
Through early intervention, Pascal’s family helped lay the foundation for his future. If you have any concerns about your own child’s development, take advantage of Hopebridge’s early identification services to seek a diagnostic assessment now. Contact us to schedule an appointment or learn more about the Hopebridge360 program.