15 Years of Hope: A Family of Advocates for Autism Support
February 19, 2020
February 19, 2020
As we continue into our 15th year of service at Hopebridge, we are taking the time to reflect on the stories of children, families and team members who brought us to where we are today. One of Hopebridge’s first families – that of the wonderful Haley – not only made a grand impact on us here in our centers, but paved the way for so many others within the autism community.
Haley began with Hopebridge (which, at the time, was called Homefront Learning Center) at 7 years old. She had been diagnosed with autism two years prior. She was, and still is, a sweet and gentle soul. Hopebridge Founder and Chief Clinical Officer Kim Strunk was her occupational therapist at the time and remembers she loved to listen to music during therapy sessions. Even though she did not talk much, she could sing a complete song after hearing it only one time. She liked to have others play with her and enjoyed dressing her dolls and working on puzzles.
“Haley is a beautiful girl who has the sweetest laugh and her smile lights up the room,” Hopebridge Credentialing Manager Angie Graff tells us about Haley.
While attending Hopebridge on and off until she was 15 years old, Haley’s mother, Gina, tells us she learned to vocalize her wants and needs better. Therapy enabled her to use her voice to tell her parents what she wanted or if she preferred to be left alone. She began to communicate rather than using maladaptive behaviors. As she grew older, she gained more functional life skills through therapy, including cleaning and cooking.
Gina remembers standout moments like the time Haley played on the Hopebridge tee-ball team. Surrounded by her peers, Haley not only got to play on the field and build her teamwork skills, but she threw out the first pitch on opening day!
“Haley learned how to cope with life at Hopebridge. She had the best therapist who truly cared for her and worked with us to achieve goals,” said Gina. “Haley was always so happy to be there and now as an adult, my daughter lives a happy, busy and joyful life because of all the therapies she was involved in at a young age.”
All these years later, Haley is the same lovable person and still adores music. She could watch music videos and sing for hours. She enjoys walking at the YMCA, shopping, crafting, playing games and helping around the house. According to her mom, she is a “neat freak” and nothing in her room is ever out of place.
Trailblazers for Autism Industry Change
While their memories of Hopebridge are fond, autism services were much more difficult to navigate 15 years ago. Prior to joining Hopebridge, 5-year-old Haley attended another school for applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy). Gina was not able to work much due to caring for Haley and bringing her back to Indianapolis on a daily basis. Haley’s father, Brian, had to work multiple jobs in order to cover the costs for therapy, none of which was covered by insurance at the time. This did not seem right. Though it was not the norm during that decade, Haley’s parents battled the insurance company to get approximately 25 percent of their costs back.
Their advocacy for their daughter and their family did not stop there. Over the years, they consistently did their research and hired parent advocates. Due to a lack of resources within the school system, they even pursued legal action in an effort to provide their daughter the best possible education. Because of their willpower, Haley went on to have a one-on-one aide starting in first grade and was able to better align her therapy schedule with her schooling.
Haley’s family also played a role in Kim’s inspiration behind Hopebridge, as Gina and she would often discuss the need for an autism therapy center for children in Kokomo, Indiana.
In addition to ABA and occupational therapy, Gina and Brian looked into nearly every opportunity to give their daughter a chance at a better life. They started on a biomedical journey across the United States, from hyperbaric chambers and chelation therapy to gluten-free diets and vitamins.
The advocacy has not halted now that Haley is an adult. Gina’s latest adventure is a company called Key Minds, which provides caregivers for children and adults with disabilities. Key Minds helps qualified families sign up for Medicaid’s support services waiver, which can be used for the services. As part of their assistance, some children are able to receive before- and after-care around their ABA therapy schedules. Gina also wishes to open group homes for young adults in the future.
Advice for Other Autism Families
With so many years of experience, Gina has been through it all. When it comes to advice for parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, she encourages families to always serve as the child’s advocate. From insurance and Medicaid coverage to education, it is important for parents to know what is available and serve as the child’s voice when he or she needs help.
She believes this is especially important when it comes to school and urges parents to understand more about their children’s rights than the school knows. Local support groups are a good place to start to build the knowledge.
At Hopebridge, we want to serve as an extension of your support for your child. Contact us to learn how ABA therapy and other autism services can help your child become more independent like Haley.