Kiddo Spotlight: Jonathan
March 02, 2018
March 02, 2018
Picture this: A family on vacation in Florida; an excited young boy running down the beach toward the ocean with his grandfather, joyfully screaming, “Mommy!” with every step.
Now imagine that it’s the first time hearing that word out of his mouth in three years.
That was one of life’s greatest moments for Hopebridge parent, Melissa, and her son, Jonathan. These successes aren’t rare anymore, but it wasn’t always that way for this family.
The start of Jonathan’s journey
Jonathan started talking around 10 months. Food was not an issue – he ate everything from vegetable soup to pickled jalapeños. About a year later, he stopped using his words and slowed down eating. These were the first signs that concerned his mother, but those around her kept telling her she shouldn’t be worried; he was just a typical 2-year-old.
After receiving developmental therapies from First Steps and still not seeing the expected progress, Melissa trusted her gut and sought out diagnostic evaluations. The process took longer than she’d hoped, but she finally had her answer… Jonathan was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
A bridge to a better future
With help from pediatricians, Melissa decided Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was the best therapy for Jonathan. At the time, there wasn’t much to find on the subject in her area.
“People thought ABA was rigid and rough. They presented a negative image but nobody could tell me what it was or what it did. Even the doctors couldn’t describe it to me at the time; they said that’s what you should have because that’s what they’re supposed to do,” said Melissa. “Thankfully Jonathan’s speech pathologist recommended Hopebridge for ABA after seeing big improvements in one of her other clients who went there.”
Hopebridge opened its arms to Jonathan very soon after and he became the first kiddo to attend the Indianapolis East center! From there, so much has changed in just a short period of time.
So, who is this extra-special kid, Jonathan?
Talk to Jonathan’s mother, RBT Molly McCann and BCaBA Clarissa Merchant and you’ll find out he’s so much more than autism.
Our boy Jonathan is quiet yet adventurous. He’s determined, creative and resourceful. He is cuddly, playful and has an incredible sense of humor that is rare for someone his age. He likes to rough-house; always running and jumping, especially outside. You won’t find him sitting down with a puzzle! Basketball is his favorite sport and he can play it for hours…if you want a good workout, try to chase him on the court! Jonathan is obsessed with Thomas the Train and “Toy Story” is his all-time favorite movie. He loves to line up cars and group them by color. He is fascinated with cereal boxes, especially the Fruit Loop box.
Best of all, Jonathan is comfortable with himself.
“Jonathan was one of my first learners at Hopebridge. As therapists, it’s natural for us to sometimes become shy in front of the kids, thinking, ‘I hope they like me!’” said Molly. “Jonathan changed that in me right away. He helped me let loose, be who I am and develop my style. He gave me confidence by showing me that I need to be who he needs me to be…and sometimes that includes some embarrassing humor!”
“He is who he is without any apologies. I wish I was more like that and I’ve learned a lot from him in this way,” said Clarissa. “We can do our best to test his skills and teach him every day, but this is Jonathan’s journey. These are his choices and he makes sure we are helping him develop the life he wants to lead.”
Finding his way at Hopebridge and at home
Imagine someone putting duct tape over your mouth and trying to figure out how to express what you want. That’s what it was like for Jonathan when he first came to Hopebridge. It was challenging and scary for him at the beginning, but in just a few months, he’s had an amazing transformation.
Jonathan learned to use the picture exchange communication system (PECS), plus is pointing and trying to vocalize his wants and needs. He can already use PECS to put together sentences like, “no, please stop,” and “I want Thomas.” His family also uses it at home, which makes all the difference.
Communication isn’t the only area of progress.
“I was told not to expect to see things as fast at home as he would do them at Hopebridge. That was not at all the case! Once he started learning, he took off,” said Melissa. “Jonathan actually pointed out colors the other day! He just started potty training, and a week later, he’s going on his own! I got to participate in Thanksgiving at the ‘adult table’ this year rather than watching him like a hawk in the toy room. And best of all, he has the ability to make friends who understand him. It’s really changed everything for the better.”
His biggest fan is also his greatest coach
This is a space to spotlight our special learners like Jonathan and his achievements, but we would be remiss if we didn’t shine the light on his mother.
“People ask me all the time… ‘how do you do it?’ He’s my firstborn; I don’t know how to raise him any differently! I may have difficulties with Jonathan, but I still have him,” said Melissa. “We do what we have to for our children. They didn’t choose to be brought into this world; we chose to have them.”
“She is an awesome mom and advocate for Jonathan,” said Clarissa. “She’s always on board and there to provide everything he needs; collaborating with us and ready to take the next step. She is faithful. She comes to every meeting, practices at home and always inquires how to best work on skills with him.”
Supportive moms like Melissa make a huge difference, and it shows in Jonathan’s progress and how quickly he has learned new skills. Melissa, from all of us at Hopebridge, we appreciate you and all that you do for your son!
In our work of ABA and other autism therapies, the best case scenario is when family members serve as support systems. Therapy starts behind our doors, but as parents, grandparents, siblings and caregivers, we need and cherish the work you do with your children to get them to the fulfilling lives they deserve to live!