In October of 2019 we had our three year old evaluated and eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was one of the most challenging years in my experience as a mom because it hit me in a multitude of ways. The “threes” are known to be a tough age and we had our fair shake of outbursts and tantrums, not knowing how to discipline him, reach him, or even understand him. It stretched us as a family and when all hope was seemingly lost, his diagnosis became a source of support and a gateway to understanding what his needs are.
…it’s not about the diagnosis, it’s about having an understanding of what’s going on with your child.Leslie Hayden (pediatric physical therapist & mother of a child on the spectrum)
Looking back on that early year since his diagnosis I am so proud of Greyson’s hard work that has made his progress so tangible and rewarding. He continues to make strides and my heart leaps when I see him beginning to connect the dots on his own.
Today I’m sharing not only a look back, but a reflection on where we are today and the exciting future this year holds for us as a family.
One of the biggest reasons, in my opinion, Greyson has had the opportunity to make the progress he has is due to early intervention. For any parent with a child with a neurological disorder like ASD, early intervention is key. Once we embarked on the journey of having him evaluated we began to follow the breadcrumbs that eventually lead us to the people and organizations who could help him (and us as his parents) navigate these new and uncharted waters.
Our Early Steps:
- discussions with our pediatrician lead us to his behavior either being caused by ADHD or ASD.
- we had him evaluated by our local school district’s Special Education Department where they recommended him as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). (Note: school districts do not provide medical evaluations).
- from there we established an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and enrolled him in a public SpEd preschool near our home where he would learn in a specialized environment and begin receiving speech and OT services – as outlined in his IEP.
- we then had him medically evaluated by a child psychologist for ASD so we could begin looking for services such as ABA (which requires a medical diagnosis). She came back having evaluated him having high intelligence and therefore on the high functioning end of the Autism Spectrum.
- we took this medical diagnosis and submitted it for services for ABA therapy in our home.
* Covid did impact the types of services we could receive. In-home sessions were the only option whereas ABA typically provides the options for in-home, at-school, and in-facility therapy sessions with other children.
These steps were emotional ones to take and often had us yo-yoing our feelings about Greyson. My husband and I had bouts of frustration, guilt, sadness, and anger over what it meant for our son to be on the spectrum. I also went through these motions of guilt, frustration, and hope. However, the steps we took allowed us to process all of these emotions with the help and support of professionals as well as friendly interactions with fellow parents who have experienced something similar.
Where we are a year later
Greyson absolutely loved his new preschool where he attended and as his parents we were excited to see him so engaged again. School had been a source of anxiety for us the previous year – as every preschool we tried always gave us the same feedback: that Grey was struggling to fit in and that it may not be a good fit due to his behavior. It was reassuring that he was being accepted and learning alongside his peers who were were facing similar learning and social challenges.
2020 and beyond
Then, 2020 happened. Covid hit and he was sent home along with every child across the nation to continue on a virtual learning platform.
I adore his teaching team for the efforts they continually put in for him and his classmates because virtual learning is hard – especially for kids with special needs. Although it was difficult to balance this new normal, Grey continued to do his best. It was a struggle some days whereas others he was happy to participate. We decided that since he wasn’t receiving his speech and OT services through the school we would push forward with ABA therapy in our home.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
Behavior analysis is a scientifically validated approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment.Autism Speaks
ABA has had one of the biggest impacts on Greyson (and us!) within his first year since being diagnosed because everyday he worked with a therapist who focused on a variety of behavioral and life skill goals. With our newfound time at home (thanks, Covid) he was able to receive 2 hours of services every day where he worked on things like: eye contact, accepting no, developing self-regulation skills, and more. Furthermore, us parents received some training to help us best meet his needs as well as support and apply what he was learning during his therapy sessions.
Through ABA we, along with Greyson, learned more about the cause (antecedent) of his tantrums and how to best respond (consequences). We learned about what triggers him, how to get ahead of those triggers, and what to do as a response if he’s already triggered. Such mind-blowing stuff! We also learned the importance of following through on our consequences, even if it causes a slight inconvenience to us.
Another helpful nugget of information we received was understanding his functions of behavior.
Functions of Behavior
- sensory: provides stimulation input to the brain
- escape: removes unpreferred activities, people, interactions or situations
- attention: provides access or awareness to/away from people or interactions
- tangible: provides access to preferred person/people or items
Just this alone has helped us understand the cause of some of Greyson’s behavior (good or bad) and be able to best meet his need in that moment (or have a consequence that best matches the function).
Punishment vs Consequence
function (cause) + behavior (outward action) = consequence (the model to teach proper behavior)
We also learned that punishments don’t help teach a child about proper behavior. Discipline should be a learning process with meaningful actions that help a child understand their behavior and guide them to making better choices when faced with a similar trigger. Consequences on the other hand do just that – they teach – and are followed up with a short discussion about what happened, why, and what should happen next time.
Greyson’s tantrums and outburst have all but disappeared (with an occasional drop to the floor crying bit), which tells me some of what we’re implementing is working.
Although Covid was a huge setback for Grey, he adapted as best he could under these new circumstances. With that being said, some of the gains we’ve really taken notice of this last year have been:
- better eye contact when interacting with others
- a desire to play and communicate with others – especially kids
- a MAJOR improvement in his speech and ability to communicate in complete sentences
- others can begin to understand him
- learning to use his words when frustrated by interactions with other kids (i.e. sharing toys, imaginative play, etc.)
- self-regulation (i.e. identifying emotions, appropriate responses…)
- he’s now telling us he “needs a minute” or “I need a break” when something becomes overwhelming for him and goes to another room to calm down!
- his ability to transition from one activity to the next (with the use of timers and a heads up about the transition)
- learning to use his words to communicate when he’s sad, angry, or frustrated
- can dress himself with little to no assistance (buttoning, zippering, etc.)
- washing his hands, brushing his teeth, potty routines, etc. and understanding why hygiene is necessary
- learning his address and our cell phone numbers
- walking with us and not running ahead (impulse control)
- continuing to learn appropriate personal space with others
- asking permission to open the door
- we were beginning social circles to help teach Greyson about social boundaries and relationships
Our Gains as Parents
Greyson isn’t the only one with goals and measurable progress. As his parents we strive to do our best to learn alongside him and do what we can to meet him where he needs us. As he matures and those needs change, we’ve been equipped to best meet them – knowing there’s still so much to learn.
Here are a few ways we’ve made gains (and continuously work on…) this last year:
- always learning and being open to new approaches to parenting
- communicating as spouses about the days’ struggles with Grey
- learning to tag-team as parents as a means of our own self-regulation
- communicating with Grey about our feelings (i.e. being honest about feeling sad, frustrated, or even happy) – we don’t need to pretend we’re happy all the time!
- providing ourselves with extra time for transitions
- awareness of what could be potential triggers for Grey in public settings and having a game-plan for when plans change spontaneously
…and here’s to another great year ahead of us!