Go beyond autism awareness this month

Go beyond autism awareness this month

The month of April is very special to me. April is Autism Awareness Month. As with most “awareness” months, it’s an opportunity to create awareness for something that affects so many.

Rather than just making people aware of the fact that autism exists, I’d like to see everyone take the extra step and promote acceptance and inclusion in schools and communities.

Fourteen years ago, my husband and I were blessed with twins, a boy and a girl. Sarah and Josiah were like most kids. They liked cartoons and animals and steered clear of activities deemed “no fun,” like brushing their teeth.

But something about Sarah was different and it would be years of doctor appointments before we came up with any answers. When Sarah turned nine, she was diagnosed with pervasive developmental and attention deficit disorder. The doctors added Asperger’s and anxiety to the diagnosis later that year.

After a bit of research, we discovered the Southwest Autism Center of Excellence. They threw us a lifeline and we gladly grabbed it.

SACE’s philosophy of serving Autism Spectrum Disorder members throughout their life span promotes high quality community-based services that are tailored to each member and family, delivering services in the most appropriate setting, in a timely fashion and while respecting the member’s and family’s cultural heritage. Individualized treatment plans are developed for each individual and their family, adapted to fit their particular strengths, needs and goals.

SACE also offers comprehensive services that include medical, developmental and mental health providers in one setting – something we really needed.

A comprehensive evaluation provided the much-needed insight that allowed a team to put an action plan together for our daughter.

Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy wasn’t working and SACE suggested and offered an alternative applied behavior analysis therapy in our home.

We learned the motivation, questions and “why” behind Sarah’s behaviors. Our ABA therapist showed and taught us how to gain Sarah’s cooperation and design behavior modification strategies.

Victoria also taught us how to parent without having emotional reactions to Sarah’s behaviors, which has created a much calmer home environment. It allows us to expect the behaviors and then work to modify them – parenting the child you have, not the one you were expecting.

We still have hurdles with creating schedules, hygiene, time management and working independently, but we’re making great strides. Sarah has also shown incredible progress in managing aggression, defiance and the need to harm herself.

SACE’s psychiatric and nursing care has been amazing. Parenting classes and support groups provide a much-needed community for sharing challenges and wins with a group of people that really understand what you’re going through.

I wish that people could understand that autism doesn’t take away a child’s humanity, dignity or desire for relationships. Individuals with autism have unique talents and gifts. They may need accommodations and parents may need extra patience, but every goal accomplished is precious.

- Rebecca McConnell lives in Mesa. The Southwest Autism Center of Excellence is a collaborative effort of Southwest Behavioral & Health Services and Southwest Human Development. Information: sbhservices.org or saceaz.org

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