Autism Therapy Helps Chosen Connect to New Skills, New Experiences and New Friends
July 05, 2023
July 05, 2023
At Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers, we love watching kids shine. We adore supporting them as they overcome obstacles and develop their independence, but more importantly, we love helping them experience the joy in life. We feel lucky that our work allows us to play a role in so many children’s lives in this way, but for one special Hopebridge kiddo, Chosen, we are especially honored we get to serve as his sidekick while he experiences it over and over again.
For him, joy is watering flowers – and the sidewalk – with his mom, Kylee. It’s reenacting “Toy Story” with Woody on his shoulders and looking in the mirror while the movie is on in the background. It’s found through pushing the buttons on his read-aloud books and running around in the outdoors. And now, while joining in T-ball, camping, birthday parties and family forehead kisses, Chosen has found even more fun in life.
“It wasn’t overnight. Everything came in stages and worked up to where he is now, but Chosen has come so far,” his father, Jacie, told us about Chosen’s accomplishments.
At Chosen’s wellness visit at 2 years old, the pediatrician asked his parents about his milestones. With questions like, “Has he spoken any words yet?” his parents remember responding with “no” to each question. The doctor then referred them to Hopebridge for autism testing, where he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
When he was first diagnosed, his parents told us he rarely made eye contact and would not respond to his name. He struggled with communication and engaging with his peers. Rather than playing with toys, he would often throw them. Chosen also eloped and would hit his own nose and head, which created potentially unsafe situations.
Since beginning an interdisciplinary program of applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy), occupational therapy and speech therapy at Hopebridge’s center in South Bend, IN, he has worked through many of his challenges to flourish in these areas and more.
“Since starting Hopebridge, he can say some words, plays with toys, loves wagon rides with peers and can write his name. He is a great example of how collaboration of care can help a child blossom,” said Michelle Beliveau-Miner, Chosen’s board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) at Hopebridge. She collaborates with Hopebridge Occupational Therapist (OTR) Courtney Kavanaugh and Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) Aubrey Archer, who are also part of Chosen’s care team.
Unlocking his communication is one of his biggest areas of progress, according to his parents. He received an AAC device a few months ago and has been using it more independently. He uses it to request food and is starting to answer “yes” and “no” questions on it. If he wants his parents to read him a book, he will grab the book and use his device to label, “book.” Recently, he was tired and used it to ask to go to bed.
“He has us read the same book every night for at least six months: Llama Llama Red Pajama. It’s a routine; he takes a bath, we get him out and dressed, brush his teeth – which he loves – and once he’s finished, he comes into the hallway and will say, ‘mama,’ which means Mama Llama,” said Kylee.
Toileting is another area of independence that is meaningful for Chosen and his parents. He often uses a watch to help him remember to try, but is now self-initiating bathroom use, at times.
Chosen has also taken on new skills and overcame areas of difficulty that others may take for granted, such as putting laundry away or getting a haircut.
“When we used to take him, he would cry every time. We both had to be there; I would hold him and Kylee would console him or show him a movie on the phone to relax him,” said Jacie. “He no longer cries at the barbershop and he can sit in the chair by himself.”
Now that Chosen has built so many foundational skills, he is also able to participate in more activities that make him happy.
For his 5th birthday, his parents threw him a birthday party based around his favorite movie and character, “Finding Dory.” They played the movie, there was a life-sized Dory and themed decorations, and the family wore matching Dory shirts.
“Cho loved it the whole time. He didn’t care about the presents; he just wanted to run around and experience everything,” said Kylee.
“The coolest part was he realized it was all for him. He had been to other birthday parties but was more of a spectator. He loved everything about his party,” said Jacie.
A big family camping trip to a lake house with his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles was another recent highlight. Chosen loved throwing rocks in the water. He was initially nervous to get in the boat, but adjusted to it and got excited every time someone caught a fish, when he’d touch it and laugh.
Sports are now also part of Chosen’s repertoire, as he is learning to ride a bike and joined a T-ball team! His mom says it took him a little time to understand how to hit the ball, but is now swinging like a pro. Kylee and Jacie stay on the field with him while he plays and help him run the bases.
“He loves it so much that when he sees us grabbing his bag and putting on his cleats, he gets excited and starts stimming and giggling,” said Kylee. “He does really well out there. When he wants to throw the ball, he’ll walk it over to a teammate and put it in their mitt. Everyone is supportive of him.”
In addition to helping Chosen to build his independence and participate in new activities, his parents see the impact ABA therapy has made on his social skills and relationships.
They believe playing with his peers at therapy is Chosen’s favorite part of Hopebridge. He continues to make friends, including his center “roommate,” who has some of the same interests as Chosen.
The progress Chosen has made in ABA therapy has also helped him connect with his family in new ways.
“In the past, Chosen wouldn’t respond to his name or make eye contact, but now he’s more affectionate. He loves giving the family kisses. If we ask for a kiss, he’ll bring us his forehead. If we tap our cheek, he’ll come and kiss it,” said Kylee.
It should come as no surprise that Chosen and his family have made an impact on his therapy team, too.
“He is seriously so wonderful. He lights up the center. And his parents are phenomenal, coming in biweekly for parent meetings,” said Michelle. “His RBTs truly care about him and his progress, too. They are so dedicated. During a recent transition between therapists, it was beautiful to see them all work together to make sure they understand his needs and likes.”
Besides working with Michelle, Chosen has created bonds with his former and current Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT), Brock Ayers, Yessica Cabezas, Elan Williams and Chloe Hossa, as well as Case Manager and RBT Victoria Ebersol.
“We could not have asked for a better team to work with Chosen. They understand him and know his little nuances. I can see the love and care they put into it and how much he’s grown because of it,” said Jacie. “Chosen appreciates it, too; he loves Michelle and his therapists. They click perfectly.”
“It’s like a little family at the center. Even the therapists who don’t work with him treat him that way. When we go in for the meetings, I hear everyone call out, ‘Hi, Cho Cho!’” said Kylee.
Do you want this for your child, too? Though each person is unique with their individual strengths, needs and outcomes, we hope Chosen’s story highlights the possibilities available for your own child. We are here to support you on this autism journey. Reach out to us so we can give your kid the tools to reach new heights and find joy in new places.
*Informed consent was obtained from the participants in this article. This information should not be captured and reused without express permission from Hopebridge, LLC.