Vade, Inspiring Kiddo Pushes Past Autism Stereotypes
July 26, 2018
July 26, 2018
As most of us in the Hopebridge community know, there are a ton of autism misconceptions floating around, one of them being that those on the spectrum are not as intelligent as their neurotypical peers. Anyone who has met Hopebridge Evansville kiddo, Vade, knows that couldn’t be further from the truth for many kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“Vade is a brilliant child. His cognitive functioning level is incredibly high,” said Hopebridge Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Leeann. “Some of the things we typically program don’t match his needs, so we had to be creative and adaptive with the ABA program. In order to help him be more successful as he grows, we incorporated the types of life skills he’ll need to be independent.”
Vade turns 12 years old next month, and what a difference the past year has made in this kiddo’s life. Prior to joining Hopebridge, he excelled in academics, but would fixate on certain subjects. School became more difficult because structures were not in place for students to go on and on about their passions, along with other challenges.
“By about third grade, we knew he needed something different. Every family hits a low point where something has to change. I decided to look into ABA therapy, when Leeann introduced us to Hopebridge,” said Angela, Vade’s mother. “Insurance hadn’t always paid for it, and at that time, we found out it was covered. Hopebridge is really paving the way in this area and we instantly felt comfortable.”
When Vade first joined Hopebridge last year, he struggled to get through a 30-minute work block. He often said, “I can’t do it.” It was overwhelming for him, but the team worked him through it so he could continue to flourish in academics while also building other social and life skills.
Fast-forward to this year…when he was able to sit through a four-and-a-half-hour testing session! To experience this and understand he can do it was huge for him, as well as his mom and grandma. Now when he starts work, he doesn’t shut down, he gets excited. He still needs guidance to get started, but is capable of using his coping strategies.
“When he starts feeling that pressure that he can’t do it, instead of doing things that would become barriers later in life, we taught him how to ask for his stress ball or to walk out of the room. Now in those moments that would keep him from going to public school, he can mentally think through it. It’s all about building that confidence,” said Leeann.
At Hopebridge, we feel it’s important that caregivers play a key role in goal-setting. For Vade, some of these objectives were the ability to make himself a snack, follow a recipe, and ultimately create a meal for himself in the future. His therapists work with him on simple recipes, reading through them together to make sure he’s following through with accuracy. He takes the lead on deciding what to make that he will enjoy to eat and share. Not only has Vade accomplished this, he took it a step further… he recently came up with the idea to make a birthday cake specially for one of his friends!
Vade has his own say in his goals as well. He has ambitions of attending Harvard some day and “doing all the jobs.” He aims to help people and make a difference in the world.
To get him closer to his dreams, the team has him prepare by performing the standard steps it takes to enter the workforce and gaining experience in various areas. This includes learning the different levels of hierarchy and job etiquette. Every two weeks, Vade applies for a different mock “job” at the center. He interviews with the clinic manager, Matt, negotiates salary and receives token economy for his work.
Vade and his therapists team up to make a list of the potential jobs he wants to target. His first role was in cleaning to make sure everyone stays healthy and his friends aren’t getting sick. Then came advertising, where he would help design posters for events like Parents’ Night Out. Most recently, it was data collection, which is his favorite. This job involves assisting with Hopebridge programming, including finding what tasks need to be completed in the center, making DTT cards and portioning reinforcements for his peers.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Vade tells us: “I want to be a scientist. I want to be a general medical person; a scientist who studies everything. I want to go to Harvard for college. I want to help the world and make world peace.”
As part of ABA therapy, therapists often use reinforcers. Through this process, Vade has also reached one of the ultimate goals for therapy – he learned reinforcements go beyond the tangible.
“Even when he earns coins, he doesn’t look at them. He tells us, ‘I shouldn’t earn coins, I should just do it because I wanted to do it.’ It’s incredible to see him automatically reinforce himself through accomplishment and seeing satisfaction in his peers,” said Hopebridge RBT Cami.
“Learn to trust yourself overall. Trust who you think you are and how you’re going to live your life. Never doubt yourself. Never ever, ever second guess yourself,” Vade tells us. “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss it, you’ll be amongst the stars.”
That’s some powerful advice from an 11-year-old!
Another autism myth that Vade rises above is the falsehood that children with ASD don’t experience feelings. He is empathetic and in tune with his own feelings and those of others’.
His RBT, AJ, shared a story about one of Vade’s interactions with a peer. Normally, when kids are playing games, all they want to do is win. In this case, Vade saw his friend needing some help. In the end, he set up the game so she would win and took the loss for her.
“It’s amazing how far this kid can go. Even though he has obstacles and challenges, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to change the world. He wants to help people the way they’ve helped him,” said Hopebridge RBT Paige.
Above all, Vade’s mother wants him to be happy no matter what he chooses to do in life. She wants him to know his options so he doesn’t feel stuck somewhere.
“I love that he’s happy. He’s never encountered any negativity here. No more tears; he’s doing what he wants to do,” said Angela. “Hopebridge is all about what he can do and what he needs to change in order to get there. He can still see the obstacles around him, but now he knows how to overcome them.”
Leeann has high hopes for his future too. “This kid owns my heart. My biggest goal is for him to know that he is awesome the way he is. He has gifts and talents that other neurotypicals don’t have; such unique and special abilities. I hope he finds a way to capitalize on his skills and special qualities.”
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