Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Remembering the Journey

I recently received an email from a man who's son was just diagnosed with autism and hyperlexia. He asked me about my son. The paths we've traveled. Therapies, education and programs we've experienced. What has helped? What we'd do differently.

PLEASE NOTE: Every child is different. I feel God guided me to the things that worked for Jonathan. I look at all the therapies available as "tools" to help our kids, and I am so thankful that we have a toolbox full! If something isn't working... there's another one to try!I IN NO WAY think this is the magical cure all for every child with autism. But the person who emailed me asked me specifically what we did with Jonathan...and this is our history.

When I responded, it wasn't difficult to remember each year of Jonathan's life. The amazing people God brought our way to walk alongside us, to join us for a year or two. Many of them have left indelible footprints in our hearts. How can you not appreciate those who go beyond the call of duty for your child?
I thought I'd share his letter and my response with you. Perhaps you may glean something from our journey you can use on yours.


I'm in the beginning of my journey with my son. He is 3.5 years old. Thank you for replying back.

I'm interested to know how long you've been on the journey? If you can change something during the journey, what would that be? Most of all, how is your son?

Thank you,


Hi E,

How long have I been on this journey? Forever! So it seems. Jonathan just turned 9. He is, my guess...2 or 3 years ahead of his peers academically, and about the same behind socially and emotionally. Though the exceptions to the "ahead" is handwriting. And there are often exceptions to the "behind" when he will show compassion or amaze us with a spark of maturity.

We kept him in K for an additional year. Partly because it was his first school year as an included child, and had a horrible no good very bad teacher the first half of the year, then transferred to the most extraordinary exactly what he needed teacher for the 2nd half of the year. They bonded (ME TOO!) and we became a team to help Jonathan be all he could be (to steal a slogan). Thank you Michelle!

don't really think there is anything we would have done differently. Nothing major, anyway. I can tell you what we did, not that there are any duplicate children...but this path (even in my ignorance) seemed to be the precise set of things Jonathan needed to keep growing and making progress.

This might be a really long letter.

Jonathan was diagnosed (incorrectly) with a hearing impairment at 11 months old. Began Speech therapy. He was not babbling at all, did not understand a word we said, did not point or wave. We knew he was smart because he was already a whiz with puzzles and shapes, but nothing auditorally made any sense to him.

While he was in speech, they noticed a lack of balance, and no idea of how to catch himself if he went to fall, so he began physical therapy at 13 months, and OT soon there after for sensory issues.

At 16 months old, after his last set of immunizations, he disappeared into his own world. I honestly thought they would tell me my son was autistic when he was 11 months old, and received hearing impairment with a thankful heart. Better to be hearing impaired than autistic! But, they were wrong, and I was right...at 18 months he was tested by 4 psychologist and a few others, and the compiled and averaged score on his first ADOS was 1 point away from severely autistic.

At that point we enrolled him in UCP. It was a preschool for children with special needs. Because he wasn't learning language, at 2, they introduced PECS to him and he picked it up immediately. I was cautious, because, although I loved the fact he could grab a "Popsicle" picture and get what he wanted instead of screaming, he still wasn't talking or even understanding any words. (http://trainland.tripod.com/pecs.htm and http://www.polyxo.com/visualsupport/pecs.html)

I took a course called Hanen, which was amazing, and really gave me a handle on how to use language so my son could begin to understand. I highly recommend finding a place to take this, if you can.

I also bought a series of videos (now they are DVD's of course) called Baby Bumble Bee. Awesome, wonderful, excellent investment! (http://www.babybumblebee.com/)

At 18 months he was in the toddler class at UCP 3 full days a week, receiving Speech and Language, OT and PT 3X a week, then we also got approved for Oral Motor Therapy and added that 2X a week. (He would not transition to table food) There we found the miracle Speech therapist who worked wonders with Jonathan. Somehow, Barb and Jonathan made a connection, and he learned so much from her. Sweet Barb...we miss you!

It was also there we realized he was reading. He was 2.5 and obsessed with numbers and the alphabet, preferring them over anything else. Instead of coloring with crayons, he would "build" letters and numbers with them. His first words were of course A B C.... and 1 2 3... "mama" came much later.

After evaluating my son, and taking into account all his strengths and weaknesses, I felt that his #1 core deficit was his lack of desire to be social. So many of his issues were due to the fact that he did really notice people or desire relationships. So I chose therapies that would cause an effective change in that area. Why would he want to talk, if he didn't want to share his thoughts? Or know what someone else was thinking or feeling?

So I chose to learn and implement a Floortime approach at home. It took months, but eventually I began to see changes. He began to interact with me and seek me out to play.(http://www.icdl.com/dirFloortime/overview/index.shtml)

All the while his interest in letters and numbers and words grew. Before he was 3, his favorite thing to do was matching pictures with words. I made file folder games to enhance his comprehension and reading ability. I made 5 folders with 10 - 20 pictures each of things he was familiar with. (Colors, numbers, toys, food, days of the week and months of the year) there were almost 100 words I was planning on teaching him. I had Velcro words for him to match the word to the picture. When I showed him the first folder, I watched with fascination as he matched 18 out of 20 ON HIS OWN! He was less than 3, I know, because he was still at UCP. He ran about the same average with each of the file folder games I had made.

I have no clue how he read. No one taught him. He just knew. I remember as a baby, how he would cry when I would shut a video off before the credits rolled. I know now he was already decoding.

At 3 he went to public school in and autism placement (8 - 3; 5 days a week) with a pull out to a preK language impaired class for 2 hours a day. He was beginning to talk. Only 1 word at a time, usually a color or number or letter; but also labeling. (funny thing was they had tried teaching him sign language, I had too, he never was interested, and he never ever signed...until he talked. Then he would often pair the sign with the word!)
I also developed my own way of teaching him language.
He had echolalia, both immediate and delayed. He would parrot back a question, knowing he was supposed to say something..but not sure what. I would say, "How are you?"he would say, "How are you". He would also quote videos, complete with the exact intonation. But he did not really have spontaneous language at that point.

After I realized he could read, I would use that! GOLD MIND!! I would right the answers to questions on index cards. I'd ask a question and hold up the card...BINGO! This is how my child learned to answer questions.

Soon it became much more than "Fine" (how are you?)
It evolved to reading sentences. We'd play games and he would have to say (read) "Mom, now it is you're turn" before I would take my turn. Or "Please give me the dice" before he could roll. All read off of index cards.

He still could not but 2 words together spontaneously, but he was learning language.

At his 4 year old IEP, one of the goals was to put 2 and 3 words together to make a sentence.

The summer before he moved to a VE (Varying Exceptionalities) 4 year old PreK class we found a church who accepted him into a summer camp program. He went 3 days a week, and was with typical children. His language exploded that summer! He surpassed the 2-3 word phrases before August, and was often speaking in sentences. We were delighted.

By 4 he was hooked on Dr. Seuss, and read everything the man wrote. The spring he turned 5 he noticed that children existed! Thus began his social life!

Flash forward. Jonathan just turned 9. He's been included in a General Education Classroom since he was 5. He is very bright, and somewhat bored in school. He always amazes us with his knowledge of subjects (he reads all the time, and remembers almost everything he reads) He is years ahead in math as well.

He is still behind emotionally. He sometimes gets "stuck" on thoughts and ideas he has, or something he really wants to do, it is difficult for him to "move on" without help transitioning. He is 100% fully conversational. He is very social, and just had a fantastic birthday party that NO ONE would have ever guessed that he was autistic.

My fingers are sore. LOL. I guess I got a bit carried away.

Feel free to ask me anything you want, if you have specific questions. As you see, I don't have trouble answering email. : )

Hope this help you as you consider your options. May the Lord bless you with wisdom and insight. I can promise you...it will be an amazing journey!


  1. Wow. This makes parenting a non-autistic child look like a walk in the park. Obviously God picked a special family for this special boy.

  2. Thank you for documenting this and posting it. I'm so scared I'm not going to do something right for my precious boy and not give him the best opportunity.

    Thank you! You are such a blessing to me!

    B :)