On October 13, 2005, our Katie, “Katiebug”, was born. By the time she was four months old, she had developed breathing problems from aspirating while drinking from a bottle. The treatment involved two inhaled drugs: Pulmicort and Xopenex. Katie also suffered from acid reflux because of the aspirating. In the fall of 2006, Katie developed chronic ear infections. She was on a combination of antibiotics for a period of six months before ear tubes were placed.
After the ear tubes were placed, we began to notice that something appeared to be “not right” with Katie. We began to fear that she was deaf. Katie never responded to her name and appeared not to hear much of anything. Our audiologist confirmed that Katie could hear. Needless to say, we were relieved, but still, concern lingered. Katie was not progressing in speech and other developmental areas. At age 18 months, we began ECI services for developmental and speech delays. We seemed to make small advances, nevertheless, Katie could not meet basic milestones such as eye contact, pointing to the toys that she wanted, taking toys to her family, and talking. Katie always played by herself at home. Her older brother, Noah, tried to involve her, but she was much happier playing by herself. Blocks and books were Katie’s toys of choice. Any toy with a face was always tossed aside immediately. We took a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in July of 2006. It was during this trip that I began to vocalize, “something is wrong with my child.” Katie was miserably unhappy as a result of a total change in her routine, a new sleep setting and constant commotion.
Soon after returning home, Katie began banging her head on anything hard: tile floors, concrete sidewalks, and walls. When Katie was 19 months old, I took the MCHAT (Modified Checklist of Autism in Toddlers) online and was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that Katie had failed many of the sections. We immediately contacted our pediatrician who referred us to a pediatric neurologist. Our neurologist diagnosed Katie as mild to medium on the autism spectrum on September 7, 2007, at 23 months of age. At the appointment with the neurologist, he was interested to see how surprised we weren’t. We explained that we were more relieved than anything because now there was a reason for her delays and behaviors. We had been reassured that we were not doing anything wrong. We felt that with this diagnosis, we had something to work with. We had a problem, and we needed to find the solution.
Like any parents, Joe and I quickly immersed ourselves in anything we could find that had been written about the autism spectrum. We were immediately struck by the latest biomedical developments. Katie began a long series of tests including allergy testing and numerous blood panels for heavy metals, yeast and other abnormalities. Katie was found to have a massive yeast overgrowth, most likely from the months and months of antibiotics. We started Nystatin and the gluten free / yeast free diet. Within six months, Katie’s yeast levels were normal and she began to excel beyond our expectations.
Leigh Farley, a friend of mine from high school, has an elementary school aged son with autism. We contacted Leigh immediately following the diagnosis and she told us many helpful things, but one resource stuck out. Leigh told us of how Tracy and her therapists helped Grant, her son, and the rest of her family learn PECS for communication and ABA techniques for interaction. Leigh told me how dedicated Tracy and her staff were and how they cared so much for their kids.
I first emailed Tracy on a Sunday afternoon and was absolutely amazed to receive a response one hour later wanting to start the application and assessment process with Katie. Tracy’s dedication to and passion for these kiddos was obvious from our first interaction.
Tracy set up the assessment with Irina in Coppell the next week. We live 45 miles from Woodall, and I had convinced myself that I would go to the assessment, listen to everything that Irina had to say and then politely thank everyone for their time, but that we couldn’t imagine making that commute three times a week. Katie entered this session at 24 months of age with a social/emotional development of an 11 month old and the language development of a 9 month old. I sat with Irina and Katie in that tiny speech room on Oak Grove teary-eyed from amazement. Irina had Katie pointing to the toys that she wanted, smiling at times, and responding to her name. I could not believe what Irina had been able to do in those short three hours. I left Woodall that day with a sense of hope that had seemed absent in thoughts of Katie. I came home and told Joe, “ I don’t care what we have to do, but we are going to Coppell three days a week for however long this takes. We have found the people who are going to bring Katiebug back to us!”
The first sessions were not easy. I remember sitting in the therapy room during one of the first days and crying because Katie was having such a hard time. She was head banging and screaming throughout much of the session. The built-in support system of parents there was so helpful. Tracy and two other mothers there immediately let me know that their children had had very similar first days and that each day would be easier. They were right. Within one month, Katie was excited to go to Woodall.
The changes in Katie were almost immediate. Within one week, Katie was communicating in one way or another what she wanted. I will never forget Katie saying “magnet” to Irina for the toy that she wanted. We always joke that Katie’s first word was “magnet”. The phenomenal group of therapists tailor-made a program unique to Katie’s strengths and weaknesses. One month after starting, we had out of town family come to visit and they could not believe the advances in such a short period of time. Once again, hope was emerging.
The therapy that Katie received was all encompassing and became our family’s way of life. Even our five year old son, Noah, was involved. Bethany specifically sought a relationship with Noah and charged him with the task of being a teacher for Katie. Noah and Katie both suffered the flu in March of 2008 and missed the entire month of March. In that time, Noah forced Katie to start playing with him. He taught Katie new words and play techniques using ABA principles. It is SO VERY important to take every suggestion given by these amazing therapists to heart and make them part of your routine. With our entire family interacting with Katie in this manner, Katie returned to therapy in April with more words than she had in March!
Katie would mark a major developmental/academic milestone with a regression in “autistic behaviors”. In July 2008, after a few weeks of what felt like regression, I called Tracy very worried and upset. As calmly as ever, she encouraged me to be patient and not to worry. Literally, the next day, we discovered that Katie was reading. Once Katie knew that we understood what was happening with her, the progression continued at a rapid pace. In August 2008, a second speech evaluation was administered. Katie had advanced from the total language development of a 12 month old to that of a 27 month old child, now only behind by 7 months. She had progressed 15 months in 10 months’ time. Astonishing!
Katie turned three in October of 2008. At this time, she became eligible for PPCD. This, of course, meant an ARD meeting. We were extremely grateful to both Tracy and Bethany for attending this meeting with us. It was such a relief to have them there to help navigate the confusing Special Ed processes. Our ARD experience was very positive. The open communication between our school and Tracy and Bethany ensured that Katie would receive exactly what she needed. Everyone continued to work together throughout the year and Katie continued to thrive.
In Mach 2009, Katie was given an IQ test at Woodall and scored average across the board for a child of her age. How far we have come! Tracy and the therapists at Woodall teach not only our children, but also us as parents. Tracy’s calm, hands-on approach comforts new parents and reemphasizes to “veteran parents” that every child is capable of leading a happy life. Each child is different, but every child at Woodall is fortunate to have the chance to reemerge from the silence of autism.
We will never be able to thank Tracy and every therapist at Woodall enough for what they have done for Katie and us as a family. We began ABA fearful of what was to come in the future. Now, we can’t wait to see and to live what comes next!