In January of 2001, our 2 1/2 year old daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with Autism. The six months following the initial diagnosis were filled with many visits to various specialists, all of which basically confirmed the same diagnosis. Although we sought treatment within our county and received basic therapies, we continued to be confused and afraid for our daughter’s future.
That first summer, we found a private speech therapist and began speech appointments twice a week. Once Katie turned 3, we were then turned over to our school district for services. Initially, we were hesitant to put our child in a therapeutic setting but our speech therapist strongly encouraged us to get her into a pre-school program for children with disabilities. In time, many of Katie’s basic skills improved. She was able to make simple verbal requests, but could not hold a conversation. Her language was so minimal that other children did not approach her.
Since the diagnosis, my husband and I have taken Katie to various specialists who claimed they could treat or cure her. She has undergone allergy treatments, vaccine reviews, and a therapy known as DMSA, which removes heavy metals from the body. None of these treatments proved effective. We continued to search.
Then, in March of this year, I had a conversation that changed my life. I am an adoption consultant at an international adoption agency in Ohio . I was at work that afternoon and was helping out with our travel department, which was short-staffed that particular day. I had called Tracy Pierce Woodall and was giving her dates for her trip to Russia , where she would adopt a baby girl. Since I had assisted Tracy through our agency’s referral process, I was already aware that on September 11th, 2001 , Tracy ‘s life had been forever changed. On that fateful day in March of this year, Tracy shared with me her background in autism therapy and ABA . She told me she would be traveling home from Russia through Romania in order to visit her school. She also had started a foundation, The Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children. I shared my daughter’s story with Tracy and explained that ABA was not readily available in my community. She then said the words that continue to astound me: Her foundation was going to begin working with children in the United States , and she would like to have Katie reviewed and possibly accepted by the foundation for treatment.
Without delay, we copied all of the documentation from the school and obtained medical records. We videoed Katie at her speech therapy sessions and in our home and shipped off the tapes to Tracy . On the weekend of April 24-25, the Board of Directors to the Foundation met and reviewed Katie’s paperwork and videos. Tracy e-mailed me on April 26th and told me that the Foundation would like very much to offer Katie services! We were delighted! Tracy explained that two therapists whom she had worked with in New York City would come to our home in Ohio , evaluate Katie, and set up a program based on Katie’s needs and abilities.
Jill Weynert and Christine Lopez, ABA Specialists from New York and ABA consultants for the Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children, arrived in Cleveland June 10th after a long work day. I met them at the airport and took them to their hotel. Their enthusiasm was contagious and for the first time since I found out my daughter had autism, I found myself believing that my daughter really would be able to do the things other children can do.
Jill and Christine arrived at our home early the following day and began working with Katie immediately. They assessed her skills and later in the day began working with Katie using the ABA techniques. The changes in Katie were immediate! Many parents mark the major milestones in their child’s life: when she first crawled, walked, said her first word. For the first time in her life, Katie was making a real connection with people around her! That was the biggest milestone! Her smile brightened and she was responding to questions and interacting. That afternoon, she asked her twin brother to play with her for the first time! I just stood there and watched as the tears just ran down my cheeks. We realized that day that Katie’s potential was limitless!
During that weekend, the Woodall Foundation made arrangements for Jill and Christine to work with my husband and me. They reviewed the ABA approach and offered an outline to assist us. The goal was to train us, the parents, to work with Katie on a regular basis. We were so excited and empowered by the knowledge that we could truly make a difference in Katie’s life.
Jill and Christine videoed Katie and kept data on her progress during their ABA sessions with her. Once they arrived home, they sent everything to Tracy Woodall for her to review. After receiving and reviewing everything, Tracy called me and told me the Foundation would like to bring Katie and me to New York City in order to receive more intensive services!
Katie and I arrived in NYC on June 26th. While there, Katie received intensive daily therapy with four ABA Specialists over a two week period which included Jill and Christine and two other amazing ABA consultants. Within the first few days, the changes in Katie were obvious. She was interacting with her peers, responding to requests and expressing so much joy! While there, the ABA Specialists offered me so much advice that when we left to come home, I was able to continue the services.
Since our arrival home from New York , we have begun making plans. We are talking to our school district, new schools, and ABA therapists in our area and reading and learning as much as we can about this Autism and ABA . We know we have a long road ahead of us, but we now know that Katie is capable of so much more and that there are services out there that can help make her mind whole.
The Brent Woodall Foundation and Tracy have changed our lives. All of the ABA Consultants have been true angels to my daughter. We know that without their assistance, we never would have realized our daughter’s potential.
On September 11th, many lives were changed forever. Tracy Woodall chose to take this horrible event and in her beloved husband’s name, she would offer families with Autistic children hope.