Cash - Serving as an Ambassador for Autism Awareness
April 29, 2019
April 29, 2019
April may be Autism Awareness Month, but for many of us, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is something we are acutely aware of every day. One family who knows this first-hand is that of Hopebridge kiddo, Cash. At just 3 years old, this spunky, fun-loving and affectionate little boy has already taught his family how to appreciate all the little things in life and not take anything for granted.
Now, this month, Cash is helping to teach the Dayton community about ASD by serving as Panera Bread’s “Pieces of Hope for Autism” ambassador. The fundraiser aims to raise awareness around the diagnosis while also raising funds for the Dayton Children’s Autism Clinic through sales of blue puzzle piece-shaped cookies and a check ’round-up’ program.
The spotlight on Cash for this campaign is no surprise to us at Hopebridge. Besides his happy and friendly demeanor (expect a ‘hi’ and a wave when you meet him!) and beautiful laugh, the doctors at Dayton Children’s chose him because his story is a wonderful example of the powerful impact of early intervention.
Cash was only 13 months old when his parents realized he was likely on the spectrum. He had stopped talking, did not want to be around people and would not respond to his name – all of which can be signs of autism.
Similar to the experience of many other families anxious to seek a diagnosis, it was unfortunately difficult for Cash’s parents to schedule an evaluation through a local clinic. Waitlists can be long and insurance coverage is not easy to navigate. His mother, Wendy, ultimately contacted Ohio’s Help Me Grow early intervention program for assistance. They were able to arrange for an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) exam, and he was formally diagnosed with ASD in December 2017, at 19 months old.
“Once we received the autism diagnosis, I was very adamant about obtaining every possible service to give him the best chance at life,” said Wendy.
They started Cash in speech therapy, occupational therapy and other available autism services soon after the diagnosis. Once he turned 2 years old, his parents jumped on getting him access to applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy).
Luckily, Hopebridge expanded into Ohio around the same time. Wendy came across the Miamisburg center in a web search of ABA providers in her area, reached out and toured the autism therapy center the same month.
“The facility was exactly what I was looking to give my son. Other clinics in this area did not seem to gear their services toward early interventions, and Hopebridge was the right match to build his independence and life skills starting in the toddler years,” said Wendy.
Before attending Hopebridge, Cash was not able to access an effective form of communication to express his needs. This was tough on Wendy and his dad, Jerry, who had no way of understanding what he wanted. He did not answer to his name, nor play with toys in their intended manner.
Since his nine months at Hopebridge, Cash now uses gestural communication and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), plus says ‘Momma’ and ‘Dada’ with intent! He is getting stronger at responding to his name, waves ‘hi’ and ‘bye,’ and is beginning to show interest in other children and his surroundings. This is huge for a child of his age and a big leap from where he started!
Hopebridge’s ABA has also had an invaluable impact on his family. Prior to attending the center, Cash did not express interest in relationships with anyone other than his mother. This was difficult for his father, of course, as he strongly desired a bond with his son. This all began to change following interactions with Cash’s first Hopebridge therapist, James.
At first, Wendy was slightly worried about how Cash would do with James since earlier therapists had been women. As weeks went by, however, she and Jerry noticed Cash opened up to his dad. He wanted to sit on his lap for a few moments and worked to gain his attention in other ways. Soon enough, Cash started saying, ‘Dada;’ a moment every father cherishes.
“James was instrumental in helping Cash learn how to interact with his dad and other male figures in his life. He will always have a special place in our family’s heart,” said Wendy.
“In some ways, autism is cruel; it ties my son’s tongue and jumbles his mind, but it can also be beautiful. My son has a unique appreciation for things we all overlook: how light reflects on the ground, how leaves sound crackling under his feet and how the wind feels on his face. He is never in such a hurry that he doesn’t appreciate these things,” Wendy tells us.
“What I love most about autism is his absolute, pure joy and happiness for the simple things. I have learned so much from him because of autism.”
Cash still has challenges but has made great strides since attending Hopebridge, and his parents and therapists are so proud of him.
“When I drop off Cash at Hopebridge, I am 100 percent positive they will care for him just like I would. His therapy team, Amber, Oascha, and Jenna, have unlocked my son’s brain and given us hope for his future,” said Wendy. “This team is devoted to helping my son achieve his best life possible. They are our heroes.”
Evidence shows early identification of ASD can have a lasting impact on an individual’s life. We are overjoyed to watch how his parents’ push for a diagnosis and interventions affected Cash’s progress even before he turned 3 years old this month (happy birthday, Cash!), and we are grateful we could play a part in his success.
Do you have questions about autism symptoms or think your child might need help reaching milestones? Contact Hopebridge to schedule a diagnostic evaluation so we can help you get the answers you need.
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