Kiddo Update: Homer’s Journey to Preschool
April 03, 2020
April 03, 2020
Those of you who have been with Hopebridge for a while may remember Homer. We have followed this amazing kiddo’s ABA therapy journey for two years as he tackled goal after goal, making life even more fun for himself, his therapists and his parents. Since we connected with him last, Homer has made even more strides…and transitioned from Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center onto preschool!
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we caught up with his mom and dad, Laura and Kevin, to get the scoop on where life has taken their family since his “graduation” from Hopebridge.
August 30, 2019 was Homer’s last day at Hopebridge. He wore a little cap and gown and to celebrate, his parents threw a big party for him at his favorite pizza place (and if you know Homer, you know how he loves pizza!).
“He was so proud and understood it was a big change for him. He asked us, ‘Are all of my people going to be there?’” said Laura. “It was a huge lifestyle change for him, but also for us.”
Homer’s family lived an hour away from the center and made the drive multiple times a week to get Homer the interventions he needed, like applied behavior analysis. Transitioning out of Hopebridge also meant changes to their daily routine.
His parents and the Hopebridge team planned well in advance to not only prepare him for preschool, but also prepare him for these changes in schedule. For instance, nearly a year earlier, Homer transitioned from full-time therapy at Hopebridge to three days a week, while also beginning at a community preschool two times a week.
“I can remember discussing with his Hopebridge team whether Homer was ready for preschool. We decided yes, but were still hesitant, until his new school told us, ‘we want him here.’ It’s not a special needs school, so we were happy to see them welcome him so completely,” said Kevin. “Thankfully, we have continued to watch Homer grow leaps and bounds at this school. Along with joining Hopebridge, it is one of the best decisions we ever made for him.”
Once he graduated from Hopebridge this past August, Homer started attending his community preschool three times a week, including aftercare. Shortly after, his parents also enrolled him in a separate developmental preschool for the other two days of the week.
The highlight of Homer’s week is riding the bus to and from his new school. His parents were originally nervous about the bus because it is an hour-long trip, but he loves it! He has become so close with his bus driver and classroom aide that they even attended his birthday party.
While the shifts in routine have not always been easy, Homer has shown an exciting amount of progress. For example, Homer participated in his community preschool’s Christmas program two years in a row. The first year, his parents were happy he was able to stand on stage without running away, which is a huge win for many parents of children with autism.
The next year, during rehearsals, Homer’s teachers told his parents that there would be some big surprises for them and that they became overwhelmed with tears of joy during practice. Laura and Kevin did not know what to expect.
“Not only was he up there on stage, but the other kids looked to him for the next move! He knew every word and every motion,” said Laura. “It was fantastic. We were so glad we had friends and family with us to capture it on video because our jaws were practically stuck to the floor.”
The change from therapy to school is not the only one Homer experienced last fall. Life altered quite a bit more for him when he took on another new role besides “student”: big brother!
The week before he started at his developmental preschool, Homer gained a baby sister, Opal. He has since learned to adjust to this new little person in his house, vying for his parents’ attention.
“His world obviously got a little crazy at that time and it was a bit rough for him those first few weeks, as it would be for any kid, but his adjustment to all the change has been good overall,” said Laura. “For so long, it was all about Homer, who had so many needs, and now if I ask him to wait because his sister needs me, he will. He has been a big help and enjoys sharing the love.”
Laura and Kevin told us that years ago they were not sure if having another child was an option, due to the amount of time and involvement Homer needed. Now they see what an incredible big brother he has grown to be to Opal. He shows her compassion and care for her needs.
Opal already loves her brother too. Their parents tell us she thinks he is hilarious. Although he is 5 years old and likes to play rough and be goofy, she cracks up when she is with him.
Homer’s parents describe him as extremely social and outgoing. Their whole community knows him. From discussing Disney’s Cars with the contractor working on their house, to ordering his own meals from “Mr. Pizza Delivery Man” when they go out to eat, Homer does not shy away from talking to others.
Laura and Kevin took a peek back at the Hopebridge blog post from two years ago and saw that we had spoken about Homer increasing his two-word sentences…and now they claim he doesn’t stop talking!
“Now we usually have to tell him to stop and take a breath. He has so much to say and his language development has been unreal. To say he’s making up for lost time is an understatement,” said Laura. “Now that we’ve gotten into his world and are able to communicate with him, he has so much he wants to learn and explore. It was like he was trapped in there, but through Hopebridge, we found a way to get in. It’s awesome to see how his mind works.”
They notice Homer recalling moments from nearly two years ago when he did not yet speak. He sometimes waits to work on his weekly memory verses for his church program until they are on the way to class, yet he is still able to memorize it forever. He is also starting to work on math concepts and is interested in the calendar; remembering how many days his mother took him to school, how many are left in the school year, and which dates fall on which days of the week.
Maybe even more fulfilling, Homer is relating to his peers and forming relationships. His parents used to wonder if the other kids would accept him and want to be around him, but they told us the children at his schools not only accept him, but welcome him with open arms. Especially heart-warming for them is the sight of two little girls running toward him, yelling his name and grabbing his hand to skip through the room during morning drop-off. His mom and dad love knowing that he has friends who care about him and want him to be there with them.
Because Homer has progressed so far, Laura and Kevin say they are often caught off guard when he does have a challenging moment.
“Our toolbox is not always ready anymore since these moments are becoming less common, but he is slowly starting to find ways to self-cope. Around Christmas, he told me, ‘it’s too loud in here,’ so we stepped outside. Now he has the words to tell us these things instead of having a meltdown,” said Kevin.
When Homer first started at Hopebridge, his parents didn’t know how to picture Homer’s future education. They were unsure whether he would need to split his time between school and therapy at Hopebridge.
“One of the big goals we set for Homer was to start elementary school on time, and now that he is 5 years old, he is ready to fully tackle kindergarten alongside his peers. This will be his next adventure,” said Kevin.
Laura and Kevin told us Homer will begin the transition process within the next month. He has a team of advocates ready to support him and set him up for the future.
“He still has challenges he needs to work through like all other kids, though his will not be academic-related. His challenges might be more along the lines of, ‘how do I act in a social situation? How do I handle unstructured time?’” said Laura. “But even with these questions, we can see how much more prepared he is for those situations. He can now entertain himself and handle free play time so much better.”
Homer’s parents credit early identification and early intervention for his school preparation and readiness to take on the world.
“If you had looked through my browsing history three years ago, you would see searches like, ‘what is autism spectrum disorder?’ and ‘what is ABA therapy?’ I have learned so much since then,” said Laura. “We cannot stress the importance of early intervention enough. Lots of prayer, time and dedication also made an impact, but I believe Homer is where he is today because we started him in these therapies when he was only 2 years old.”
If you think autism could be affecting your child’s life, we hope the story of Homer’s journey – and his family’s – will give you the confidence to take the next step. Reach out to us at Hopebridge for a formal diagnostic evaluation so your kiddo can begin comprehensive, life-changing therapies right away.
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