Dear families with children on the spectrum,

Our story began when our son David would not respond when I called to him. I thought he might have a hearing problem, never believed it could be so much more than that.

When I would take him to playgroup he wanted to climb on the playground and run around the gym, instead of making crafts, listening at story time, or sitting on the mat like the other children did with their mothers. He would run into classrooms, and disrupt their classes, which I found very tiring and frustrating. Why did my child not want to interact with other children, play with the toys (instead dump them on the floor), stick his fingers in electrical outlets, or run away from me instead of sitting in my lap? I knew something was different.

At 2 ½ years we had a hearing test performed, where they told me David had exceptional hearing and it might be something else.

At 2 years 10 months he had testing with the developmental team at the Regional Hospital. I watched, from a one-way window, the behaviour I had seen so many times. When he didn’t want to do things he was asked to, he would throw things, move to something else, or throw a tantrum.

David’s diagnosis was high functioning autistic. I couldn’t believe it, I cried right there at the hospital. Confused how my boy could be on the autistic spectrum? He is smart, bright, funny, smiles a lot, likes to be cuddled, squeezed and kissed. It was all the other things, only wanting to do what he wanted, not moving forward academically, not listening to instructions, or my voice when calling to him. He didn’t seem to know of possible dangers like talking to strangers, running into traffic, and would get so focused on what he wanted that he would throw a tantrum if he couldn’t have it.

This was where I was ignorant of knowing about autistic children. They are smart and they can learn, just differently. They can move forward with help. I went home and told my husband. We were all in shock and had a thousand questions. What did this mean for our son? Will he function normally, will he be a dependent or able to make it on his own?

What I do know is that every day I learn something new I didn’t know about David. Just when I have him figured out, he changes and keeps me guessing because he is a bit of a chameleon, but it is better than being “stuck” in one place.

 
 

At three years old, David started Stepping Stones the first week of January, for three hours a day, five days a week. This was a big commitment. With me not working outside the home, we felt it was the only way for our boy to succeed to his full potential. I felt I was failing him because what I was doing wasn’t working. So we started him with Stepping Stones and knew it wouldn’t be easy……some days were really hard but, we kept with it, because we knew he needed all the academic and social programs he could get to succeed and move forward.

When he first started the program it seemed like he was taking too long to focus, remember animals, and colours. He would want to run away and throw toys when he didn’t want to do something. But as time went on he learned to focus and retain information, sit longer periods, listen to instructions, not run away, throw things or himself to the floor anymore. He made better eye contact, and learned to read body language/cues.

Every 6 months my husband and I would have a meeting with everyone who worked with David, recap what level he was at, how far he’s come, and what the new program would look like for the next 6 months. Whatever this panel of experts wanted to try, we went along with because they knew what was best for him and we were seeing positive changes. We knew these special people were trying to bring out the best in our boy.

David’s duration at Stepping Stones was 2 years 8 months. We couldn’t believe how far he had come in that time period. His listening, eye contact, and having a conversation all drastically improved. His speech was clear and he knew colours, animals, how to print his name, and use the bathroom by himself. He was not afraid of noises in public washrooms anymore, and he was not running away anymore, but rather, holding my hand in public, parking lots, and, crossing the street.

Thanks to the staff at Stepping Stones our determined little boy, is changing for the better! They gave us tools to help deal with issues that would creep up, work around them, and move forward. No more getting “stuck” on only what he wants to do. We still do not use the word autistic with him, because we felt labelling would only hold him back from his full potential.

David is now in grade three. He likes his teacher, and is very social with his classmates. He does very well at all subjects, and we’ve been told he is polite and helpful. We know life will never be boring with our son, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. I fully believe he is going to be a productive member of society, and with his enthusiasm and determination he can do/be anything he wants to be. Without the help and dedication of the Stepping Stones staff, this would not have been possible.

So to the parent/parents of a child starting Stepping Stones it is very important to stick to a structured routine they suggest and meet with them to discuss any issues you’re dealing with (so they will incorporate them into the program). Try to be patient, you will start seeing changes in your child but it will take time as these little people all learn differently. And when your little person graduates you won’t believe how far they have come, and how proud you are for all the hard effort your child and staff have put in.

Now we would like to thank all the staff at Stepping Stones for all the hard work, support, care giving and friendship these people gave to us every day, as we would be in a much different place now if it wasn’t for them:

Sharon Gainsforth for starting Stepping Stones program, and persisting when there wasn’t any funding.

Heather McFarlane for putting all the programs together for David, and all the long talks we had about issues that crept up.

Gillian Akagi-Kerr for working one on one with him, making him learn differently, teaching him to speak instead of using his fists, and being a friend.

Lisa Khana for giving us help with his behaviour, and putting these ideas into the program.

Amanda Bennett for working on social skills with David, being very frank with him, and teaching him to have fun with friends.

Dawn his O.T. for teaching him how to hold a pencil, print, colour within the lines, go up and down stairs properly, along with his sensory issues.

Express your issues and ask many questions, Stepping Stones are there to help. 

 

{ names have been changed for the confidentiality of the family and child }