Navigating Autism

A Family Finds its Fortune in Helping Others

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The couple promptly began providing Mitchell with intensive therapy. But because there was no comprehensive center where he could receive all the services he needed, Aileen had to take Mitchell to various therapists and educators every day. “We were going from seven in the morning until seven at night for two years,” she recalls. Their rigorous schedule was made even more grueling by the fact that, like many children with autism, Mitchell required little sleep, leaving Aileen to navigate many of those hectic days on only a few hours of rest.

Although he, too, faced the stress and fatigue that come with caring for a child with autism, Greg is quick to credit Aileen with Mitchell’s success. “The most important thing was a mother that refused to let her son be left behind,” he says.

Mitchell received everything from speech therapy to horse therapy. Ultimately, the Carrs discovered applied behavior analysis (ABA), a scientific approach to understanding behavior, first described by B.F. Skinner in the 1930s. It provides techniques for increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative behaviors that interfere with learning. Before Mitchell reached his third birthday, the Carrs had hired home therapists Megan Dikranian and Melanie White to implement an ABA based program designed by the Lovaas Institute, established in honor of psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas, a pioneer in the research and treatment of autism. The ABA method proved so helpful to Mitchell that the Carrs now use it as the basis for their work with other children.

Signs of common children with uncommon learning needsWhen Mitchell turned 3, Greg and Aileen enrolled him in a public preschool program. But within 18 months, it became apparent that the school could not support his needs. They placed him in a private school, where they not only paid for tuition but also the salary of a specialized teacher, and continued to supplement his early education with ABA-based home therapy.

Mitchell’s steady advancement using ABA methods was eventually rewarded with independence and mainstreaming in a local Catholic school. He went from needing a full-time teacher devoted to helping him, to a part-time teacher and ultimately, a before-school primer that prepared him for each day’s learning experience.

Today, Mitchell is an independent learner, exhibiting few outward signs of autism. In fact, at age 8, his doctor lifted his diagnosis, as he no longer met the criteria for autism. Aileen says she still notices minor differences in his behavior, but a stranger would be hard-pressed to identify him as a child with autism. It takes steady conversation and a close study of his face to uncover even the most remote symptoms. “He’s definitely our miracle,” Greg says.

 

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