Kiddo Spotlight: Norah
March 26, 2019
March 26, 2019
Pretend play is a common challenge for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), so when sweet Norah ran into the living room with two tea cups saying, “tea party, mama,” there’s no guessing how her mother reacted. Ecstatic to see the newfound interest in her daughter’s toy kitchen, Angelica pulled up a little table and chairs, dressed Norah in bumble bee wings and a skirt, and the two sat down for their first-ever tea party.
But as most parents understand, especially autism parents, life is not always rainbows and butterflies (or bumble bees!). While Norah is making incredible progress in certain developmental areas, her family feels there are other challenges that need to be addressed. This has led them on a search for ABA therapy services for nearly two years, which had been unsuccessful until she learned about the new Hopebridge center in Roswell, Georgia earlier this year.
THE AUTISM DIAGNOSIS
Norah, who turns 3 years old this month, was diagnosed with ASD in September 2017 when she was 18 months of age. Like many families, the early stages of discovery were hard on her parents. Angelica and her husband, Covy, knew Norah was behind in some areas of development. She did not walk until 18 months. She spoke some words here and there but her speech started to taper off, and her lack of eye contact worried them. Other family members voiced concerns about her behavior and development.
Her parents questioned the pediatrician, who recommended they look into Georgia’s early intervention system, Babies Can’t Wait. The program is intended to get kiddos back on track for developmental milestones, but since it is not specifically geared toward children on the spectrum, Norah’s parents did not stop there. They needed answers.
Knowing her parents wanted to do all they could for Norah, Angelica’s mother connected her with a psychologist. She and Covy worked with her to schedule a diagnostic evaluation in which she would be tested for autism. They received the report less than two weeks after the assessment and started different types of therapy with Babies Can’t Wait the following day.
“We moved quickly and it was a lot to take in all at once. Back then, we were devastated; not because we thought the autism diagnosis was a problem, but because we hated to see her struggle without understanding why,” said Angelica. “Now, we’re so happy we identified her diagnosis early enough to get the services she needs to function to her fullest potential.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO ABA
Though Norah’s diagnostic report really stressed the benefit of applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) for her individual needs, her parents did not have luck finding a solution until just a few weeks ago.
“I have been fighting to get her ABA since we received her diagnosis. I contacted several facilities for almost two years with zero luck. I adding Norah to waitlists and followed up with phone calls, but the waiting game continued,” said Angelica.
It all changed when she spotted a Facebook ad from Hopebridge in the middle of a night when she could not sleep. She filled out the initial information on the website without expectations, but it was not long before she received a response to move forward on scheduling the ABA evaluation. Therapy is already set to begin in early April!
“The intake process and paperwork have been smooth sailing. It took some time, but considering how difficult it had been to even speak to someone regarding ABA before connecting with Hopebridge, the process has been pretty painless,” said Angelica.
Angelica remembers the ABA evaluation as brief; no more than an hour and 45 minutes. She was initially worried about the length of time the Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) would be evaluating Norah, but it went better than she anticipated. Rather than a lengthy probing session with the child, the evaluation focused on gathering information from Angelica, while hosting what could be viewed as a play session for Norah with tons of toys.
“Norah loved every second of it! She was actually sad to leave, which was really shocking,” said Angelica. “The team was very kind and patient with me. They were thorough to make sure no stone was unturned so they understood all the ins and outs of her behavior, strengths and weaknesses. It was a positive experience overall.”
A SWEET GIRL READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD
While bubbly, kind and extremely playful, Norah is not very social with other kids, although she can tolerate others and is not aggressive with them. Her parents hope to build upon this at Hopebridge. Helping to debunk a common autism myth, Norah is affectionate and does not have a hard time expressing her emotions. She is a daddy’s girl, thrilled when he walks through the door from work and their energetic, physical play is unlike that with anyone else.
Her mom describes her as stubborn, yet persistent. She can get quite upset if she cannot get something right the first time, but is determined to achieve the goals set out for her.
Norah only recently became verbal, but in the last six months, her speech has exploded. Her mom is happy she is beginning to express manners; saying “please” and “thank you.” She now makes her desires known as opposed to getting upset and alerts her parents when she needs her diaper changed. Her meltdowns are far less frequent now that she is better able to communicate.
Like her mother’s new favorite tea party, Norah is also engaging in pretend play with a new baby doll from her grandmother. She puts it to sleep and pretends to feed her, which is a huge milestone for her to reach.
“She also blew her first bubble by herself a few weeks ago!” said Angelica. “I know for parents of kids who are neurotypical, these moments have probably come and gone. For parents of children with autism, it is amazing to see them happen at all. Even if they happen late, it just makes them that much more valuable to us.”
AREAS OF HELP FROM HOPEBRIDGE
While Norah has made huge strides with help from speech and occupational therapy, Angelica and Covy are excited for her to attend Hopebridge for ABA therapy so she can work on other challenges.
Easing transitions is a top priority for Norah’s mom and dad. She needs help moving seamlessly to the next activity or a non-desired activity without getting upset. This is especially important as they consider enrolling her in the school system in the near future. Their goal is to help her perform well in the classroom, and in order to do that, she will first need to be able to transition from meal time to nap time to recess without issues.
Other challenges occur when a situation does not go the way Norah plays it out in her mind. For example, her current speech therapy office is on the way to the park. Along the drive, Norah often recognizes the landscape and expects they will end up at the park. When they instead arrive at the therapy facility, it does not always go well. Even saying the word, “park” can trigger a reaction. Angelica attempts to play music or sing a familiar song to distract her enough to get into the building without panic, but she looks forward to tackling this concern with help from Hopebridge BCBAs and therapists.
To aid in overcoming both of these key goals, Norah’s parents hope ABA helps her learn to use more effective means of communicating her frustrations.
“I’m with Norah 24/7. If it is a mild situation, I can usually diffuse it, but when they’re severe, they’re extreme to the point where she’s ripping out my hair, kicking or hitting me. It’s emotionally draining, especially if it’s been a rough week with multiple meltdowns,” said Angelica. “It’s tough, but I try to remember she’s not upset because she’s a brat or has poor behavior, but because she does not know how to cope.”
A QUEST TO SPREAD AUTISM AWARENESS
“Norah is not autism. She happens to have autism, but she is still Norah,” said Angelica. “Autism is her superpower. I believe all individuals on the spectrum have some sort of gift. I know Norah has hers and we are yet to figure it out, but it’s definitely there. She’s exceptional and a blessing and so strikingly different that I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Understanding that many people are not yet educated around autism, Angelica uses her social media platform and daily interactions to inform others.
“While I try to share milestones, it’s important that I post as often as I can about my lifestyle as an autism mom in general. It’s not easy. It’s emotionally, physically and spiritually taxing, but sharing is important to me,” said Angelica.
“Before Norah’s diagnosis, even I didn’t fully understand autism nor the spectrum it encompasses. I try to document as much of her progress and the challenges as possible; not to get attention or appear negative, but so others can view the reality and to serve as a source of hope. The lifestyle can be difficult many days, but it is also very rewarding.”
Angelica believes early identification of autism has already made a huge difference in their young daughter’s life. If there are delayed or missed milestones you would like to discuss for your own child, contact us at Hopebridge to schedule a diagnostic evaluation so we can help you get the answers you need.
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