Remember Simon? The kiddo is going through a tremendous growth spurt! Along with getting taller, the 8-year-old with autism is making monumental social, behavioural and academic gains. He’s blossoming into a humorous, mild-mannered chatterbox who reads like a pro and loves to play games with his peers. One of his favourites: Zombie tag with the kids at summer camp. Thrilled with his progress, his parents asked us to update his story here:
Over the last year, Simon has grown in so many incredible ways, say his parents. “It’s clear to us that he understands everything that is being said and happening around him. He can express himself clearly in most situations, which has helped to significantly reduce his negative behaviour,” they explain. “Simon has learned how to swim, skate and use the computer, and he’s learning how to ride a bike. He’s also become a lot more affectionate! He is able to independently express some endearing things as he feels them, such as ‘I love you’ and ‘I want a hug’ and ‘I want to snuggle.’ He tells us when he needs a break, when things are too loud for him or that he’s tired – all without getting upset.” Pretty impressive for a boy who was nearly nonverbal and prone to regular meltdowns just a few years ago!
The family attributes much of Simon’s advancement to ABA therapy. In September 2015, they made significant changes to his learning environment: “We pulled him out of the regular school system, where he would have been left by the wayside, and brought his schooling into the home where he’s benefited tremendously from direct instruction and ABA,” they say. “Simon looks forward to therapy each day because it’s structured in such a way that he has realistic and attainable goals; it’s fun for him and he has developed loving and affectionate relationships with this therapists.” The therapy team, headed by Kid Mechanix’s Shayna Gaunt, teaches Simon academics like reading, math and spelling and focuses a lot on programs that increase his ability to communicate, comprehend language and regulate and understand his emotions.
Like school, Simon sits down at a desk to study language and arithmetic. He also gets out into the community regularly to learn and practice social skills and get comfortable in new situations. For example, Simon and one of his therapists, Aileen, attended nature classes for homeschooled kids in the fall, winter and spring. “During the fall session, Simon had many meltdowns, because he was overwhelmed with the newness and change in routine,” explains Aileen. “Following the rules of the class, sitting still in morning circle, stopping frequently to look at and learn about interesting things such as turtles and beavers and getting mud on his boots triggered his anxiety and sent him through the roof.” Yet, every Wednesday morning, Simon was so excited to hike with the kids and his nature teacher! To help him adapt to and thrive in these outdoor classes, we created social stories to explain the rules, wrote out his schedule, introduced a check mark system to reinforce appropriate behaviour, used behaviour contracts and gave him cue cards with social phrases, so he knew what to say to his classmates. “By February, he was so comfortable and competent that I was able to fade myself way back,” says Aileen. “He listened to the teacher better than the other kids, followed the rules to a T and was engaged in spontaneous games. He loved every minute!”
Another highlight for Simon, his parents say, are the weekly adventures his takes with his therapists to destinations such as the Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum and Centre Island. Until a couple of months ago, we gave him a few places to choose from (the ability to pick his adventure is empowering); now, however, he just tells us where he wants to go and when. For example, he recently said: “Aileen, can we go to Casa Loma on Friday, because I want to go in the spooky tunnel? After Casa Loma, I want to go to Pizza Pizza.” After such impressive communication, we, of course, took Simon. There, he waited patiently for 10 minutes in line to get tickets, he listened perfectly the first time, used his words to ask for the things he wanted to see and, at the restaurant, ordered his pizza and juice independently. Once impatient and intolerant to change, Simon’s now able to go more with the flow and fluently communicate his needs and desires.
“The introduction of these specialized outings have given our son the opportunity to enjoy activities not previously open to him,” say his parents. He’s having a blast! And Shayna explains that, “getting out and about also helps Simon generalize the skills he’s learned in therapy and gives us, his ABA therapy team, the chance to target and teach socially significant skills such as waiting, turn-taking, following the rules, how to behave in various situations and talk to peers properly.”
This fall, more change is in the air for Simon. Now that he’s been taught pre-requisite/foundational skills to learn in a group environment, he is reintegrating into school. His parents have chosen a private school that utilizes ABA techniques. “Small class sizes and open communication with his existing ABA team will assist with the transition and set up Simon to be successful right from the beginning,” Shayna explains. “School is important for so many reasons: Simon will have access to peers and social opportunities that can’t be contrived in a home environment. And he will learn how to follow routines, listen to a teacher and learn in group environments. We are excited that he is ready to do this!”
Simon’s mom and dad have many hopes for this coming year, a big one being that he will make meaningful friendships. In the long term, they dream of him graduating high school, getting a post secondary education and having a life like any other young man. Independence is their ultimate goal.
“I think one of the most important things to stress is that this is a long process,” say his mom and dad. “It is expensive and emotionally and financially draining. However, there is not a single thing we would do differently, as the payoff has been Simon’s growth. Children with needs such as his need people who are relentless in fighting for them and providing them with the tools they need to develop the skills that are trapped there inside them. They need our help to get it all out. And the only way to ensure that, as far as we are concerned, is via ABA/IBI, and a lot of it! Five years ago, Simon couldn’t speak more than baby babble – now, we can’t get him to shush. It is awesome!!!”