Kiddo Spotlight: Jacob, a Boy with Autism who Knows No Limits
December 23, 2019
December 23, 2019
When describing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is most often defined as a developmental disability and the conversation often centers around the challenges associated with it…but what if we took a different approach?
To one Hopebridge dad, for instance, autism is an ability, not a disability.
“People with autism see things differently through their minds and eyes. Yes, these individuals may be ‘different’ – as everyone is – but that is not a negative thing. Each is special in his or her own unique way and we have a lot to learn from them,” said Richard, father to Jacob in the Hopebridge Forest Park therapy center. “Autism truly is like a puzzle; we have to put together the pieces to find out what works for each person.”
Jacob’s mother, Ana, agrees: “It’s beautiful to see that he doesn’t know limitations and believes in himself. His vision is a little different than others. He is going the same way as other kids his age; he just may be taking another path to get there. Jacob always tries to surprise himself, and he surprises us daily with his progress.”
Jacob’s parents noticed early on that he is a loving, affectionate boy. (Remember those autism myths? Definitely debunked by this sweet kiddo!) He likes to be near others and is outgoing and willing to get to know new people. He constantly kisses his parents and baby brother and tells them he loves them…even sometimes at 5 a.m.! His dad teases that if you turn around, he will be there, and when you open your eyes in the morning, he will also be there.
THE AUTISM DIAGNOSIS
Though the affection was always there, that was not always the case with the “I-love-yous,” simply because speech was challenging in the beginning. This was one of the first developmental milestones that concerned Ana and Richard a bit, along with lack of eye contact, because he was not able to use words to request his wants and needs.
They also noticed Jacob stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), standing on his tip toes, and observing things very closely to be able to see the angle of the object, in addition to signs of sensory discomfort, such as covering his ears. He often played alone and was not very social. When they took him to indoor playgrounds alongside other children, he became nervous, cried and sometimes had tantrums.
“I remember it was an overwhelming, anxiety-filled experience for us. As our first child, we didn’t know what to expect nor did we know much about autism,” said Richard. “During checkups, the doctor gave us screening surveys with questions about milestones and I felt like we constantly answered, ‘no.’ I worried because he was not hitting them, but also told myself, ‘maybe every kid hits them at their own pace so we shouldn’t worry.’”
A little after 2 years of age, they took him for a formal diagnostic evaluation, when they were told he has autism. Ana and Richard immediately began applying for a range of therapies that could help him, such as speech and occupational therapy. Soon after, they found Hopebridge in Cincinnati and were grateful to place him in early intensive behavioral intervention with applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) for four hours a day.
“Occupational therapy and other services were helpful in the beginning, but the diagnosis is what really opened doors for us because we could get him additional services like ABA therapy,” said Ana. “At first, I was nervous because I’m his mom and he’s always home with me, but I knew it would help. I smiled at him when he put on his backpack that first day, and he’s loved it ever since!”
MAKING MAJOR PROGRESS IN ABA THERAPY
According to his parents, Jacob has skyrocketed in his development since joining Hopebridge.
“As parents, we felt a little lost as to what we could do to help him. Finding Hopebridge was a light at the end of the tunnel and now we can open the doors. Jacob is more prepared to go on his own now. He is able to entertain himself with other kids, as well as tell us what he is feeling and what he wants,” said Ana. “I appreciate the way his therapy team reassured me of the possibilities and power Jacob held in his own hands.”
Now, at almost 4 years old, Jacob can often be seen smiling, high-fiving and hugging others in the center. He uses three- to five-word sentences, makes requests, holds eye contact and creates friendships. He problem-solves and works to figure out tasks on his own. Jacob participates in circle time, is beginning to work on writing skills and is learning how to cut with scissors. Transitions to various activities occur more easily. He is open to more textures in food. He is actively working on potty training. Jacob continues to overcome all these things that use to slow him down.
“He is so independent that sometimes I forget he’s not even 4 years old. I’ll wake up and he’s already in the bathroom on a step stool with the sink on trying to brush his teeth. Or he’ll try to pour himself a cup of orange juice – and yes, he’ll spill it, but the important part is he wants to do it on his own,” said Richard.
Jacob is also working on something many kids his age struggle with: patience. He does not always like to wait, but continues to strengthen his patience at the center and at home. If his mom tells him, “one second, I’m coming,” he will wait and smile.
His parents tell us social cues are another continued challenge as he gets older and encounters different people, but he is working on it. Lately, he says, “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” and Ana recently had a woman at a store comment on how polite he is.
“We see him as our superhero. He is the best thing that ever happened to us. Having a child on the spectrum is a blessing. He teaches us so much,” said Ana.
CONNECTING TO OTHERS THROUGH CENTER-BASED THERAPY
Jacob’s BCBA at Hopebridge, Kelli Hyde, is also thrilled with his progress.
“He is the happiest child. He loves being here and our team loves him back. His growth over the past year is awesome,” said Kelli. “He used to keep to himself and didn’t talk much, but now enjoys interacting with other kiddos and therapists. He is always greeting someone and wanting to play. He is super funny and has a great personality. One therapist even calls him the ‘light of the clinic.’”
His parents are extremely proud of his work, but even happier to see him in his element. Jacob gets excited about the weekly themes in his center, remembers what they did during sessions and comes home to tell his family.
“He tries to bring home all the fun, singing songs from his sessions and even asks if he can go back to the center on weekends. He is not there forcefully; he loves attending Hopebridge,” said Ana. “In a way, the therapists here all serve as other moms to Jacob. He really feels love and care for them; he’s returning what they give to him.”
“The staff, environment and other families at Hopebridge all make it such a great experience. Everyone is understanding and I love the notes at the end of the week that discuss progress,” said Richard. “It’s informative and helpful to have tips and tasks to work on at home. I couldn’t be more pleased and blessed to find Hopebridge for Jacob.”
Is now the time to give your child the tools to lead a happier, more engaging life? If you notice challenging behaviors or are concerned with milestones, contact your nearest Hopebridge center for a diagnostic assessment and learn more about the autism services we offer across multiple states.
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