A Family Finds its Fortune in Helping Others
THE CARRS ARE acutely aware of how lucky they were to be in a position to give Mitchell the best practices in early intervention, and they realize that other families are not so fortunate. “Very few people could afford what we did and be blessed to have good teachers and therapists directing them to treatment that has sound research behind it,” Aileen says.
A deep-seated understanding of their good fortune, coupled with Aileen’s determination to help other families, was the impetus for The Uncommon Thread. “It was our debt to pay,” says Aileen. And by 2006, the Carrs were ready to start their repayment program.
Mitchell was progressing wonderfully, and he and his sisters were all in school. Two years earlier, Greg had merged his company with Broadmargin to form Control Point Solutions, a firm employing 400 people and managing more than $7 billion in telecom expenses. After managing the merger and creation of Control Point, Greg was ready to divest from the company and focus his attention on his wife’s dream.
“I shifted my passions from technology to autism,” Greg says. And with that shift came the creation of The Uncommon Thread. The center’s name derives from the concept that typical children learn from a common thread. However, teachers must find a different path for children on the autism spectrum, as they learn differently and often in the smallest of increments. These children have difficulty understanding inferences and must learn at the most basic levels. However, they can learn and Mitchell is living proof.
“For instance, if you tell a typical child to paint their neighbor, they aren’t going to literally paint their neighbor. They’re going to paint a picture of their neighbor,” says Aileen. “But with autism, we have to find the uncommon thread for kids to learn. It’s not that they can’t learn. They just have to learn in a different way.”
That different way of learning is what The Uncommon Thread brings to its clients. The center offers children, 15 months to 7 years old, behavior analytic services in an individualized educational setting designed to address each child’s specific needs. As Emily Bellovin O’Neill, a board-certified behavior analyst and the center’s program director, explains it, each child has an individualized curriculum that is constantly modified to fit the child’s needs, advancement and learning preference. For instance, she says, “You might have two kids learning colors. One might use picture cards while the other uses objects.”
Education at the center begins with the basics—sitting still in a chair, potty training and independent feeding—then advances to more complex skills, from mastering colors, the alphabet and numbers to developing fine and gross motor skills, and identifying emotions and concepts that go together. As their intensive one-to-one training progresses, children are slowly incorporated into a small-group classroom setting where they can hone their social skills—a key area of development for most children with autism and related disorders.
True to the Carrs’ vision of developing comprehensive educational strategies that bring together all the educators in a child’s life, The Uncommon Thread provides hands-on ABA training and support programming to parents; home and community based ABA therapy; and mainstreaming shadow services that provide children with a “shadow” educator who helps them successfully transition from the program’s intensive one-to-one learning environment to mainstream educational environments. The center also provides functional behavior assessment and referral services that put families in touch with professionals such as neurologists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, and reading and language specialists.
But The Uncommon Thread is about more than the clinical work of treating children with autism. It’s about celebrating the small successes that represent big victories for their clients. A prime example is 28 month-old Mattie. When Mattie came to the center last fall, he couldn’t sit still or feed himself. He wouldn’t touch or hug his mother. But by early January, just four months into his therapy, he was doing all of these things and more.
The center was abuzz with news of Mattie’s progress the day after his mother sent a picture of him drinking from a cup for the first time to each staff member’s cell phone. That afternoon, he made therapist Rachel Lopez’s day by running to her with a broad smile and outstretched arms. Mattie had learned to hug.