Jacob was born into our family four and a half years ago. He was a beautiful baby, big blue eyes, beautiful face, sweet little fingers and toes. Jake was also an easy baby to nurse who responded well by gaining weight on schedule. He was easy to amuse, he loved his musical toys, he loved the TV, he loved to watch the fan, and he loved the baby swing. We proudly marked the calendar with all of his development and accomplishments. We felt Jake was right on track; he rolled over, sat up, crawled, stood, walked right on schedule. He babbled, waved, and clapped and would say mama and dada.
Slowly like a season, things began to change. There are so many common explanations. Boys develop slower than girls, he had his big sister talking for him, and sometimes it takes longer for the second child. I was not worried at first, not until other skills started to slip away. I hadn’t seen him wave bye-bye as much, the clapping? Where had that gone? It was sneaky, it wasn’t a date you could put your finger on, but the sounds slowly started disappearing until there was nothing left. He was focused on objects; he played for hours with colorful toys in particular. Jake really was becoming less and less interested in us. I felt like I just became a way for Jake to get what he wanted. He would pull on me and my husband and bring us to the area of what he wanted. He started to have trouble sleeping; he would wake up crying often throughout the night and then be up at 3 or 4 a.m. for the day. Jake would no longer tolerate being restrained in any way, no high chair, no stroller, and no shopping carts. Jake started to do unsafe things, jumping off of anything he could, climbing and jumping. If he became upset he would bang his head against the highchair. He started to be very selective about what he would eat eliminating almost everything until we were down to about four foods. We would call him and he would not look at us. We could not get him dressed, bathed or teeth brushed without a fight, he could not be directed into any activity. The sounds were gone, the sleeping was gone, the waving, the clapping, pretty much all of the things that Jake was, were disappearing. Finally, Jake was gone too.
I called early intervention at the advice of my sister. After meeting with early intervention, an evaluation determined that Jake was delayed in all areas, and was a candidate to be evaluated by the Autism CATCH team in Chester County, Penn. Jacob was eligible for early intervention and received special instruction, occupational therapy, and speech in our home until he reached age three. He was evaluated by the CATCH Team and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It was recommended and approved that he attend the TOT preschool class provided by the ARC of Chester County.
Slowly the special instruction we received began to change my family’s life. My everyday battles were meet head-on with interest, respect, empathy and experience. My husband and I were willing participants in my son’s therapy and our son’s teacher truly become our teacher, and we learned to get to Jake with her help. A strong focus on picture exchange communication lead the lessons and slowly with helpful modification made by our instructor, Jacob began to communicate his wants to us. Slowly his frustrations began to become less. Through pictures, sequences and stories my son began to participate in his life, he finally found the words he needed. At this time we also began to receive wraparound services, and behavioral support in our home. The combination of the therapies began to fall into place. This was the beginning of his breakthrough.
Jake’s participation in the TOT program was a pivotal turning point in his story. Once Jake began the TOT program he was again becoming the son I once knew. He received OT, speech and special instruction in concentrated, individualized form in this classroom six hours per week. He absolutely blossomed and rose to the challenges he had in his life with this help. The program attacked problems and everyday battles, leaving us with the sense that we could lead a fulfilling life with my child and sanity intact. Going out into the community in various ways gave Jake so many skills. He is able to be examined by a doctor, a dentist, get a haircut, play at a playground, eat at a restaurant, shop in a store, and go to the library! I would never have imagined that we would ever enjoy any of these activities with our son. I feel like we were blessed to have Jacob in this program, and that he would not be where he is today without it. Jacob’s progress is remarkable, and been achieved because of this amazing program and the staff that provides it. I can not stress enough how instrumental it has been in my sons recovery.
Jacob is now four and a half and speaks in complete sentences. He attends a developmentally delayed class room and is doing very well. He will brush his teeth and sit at the table and even clean up his plate and his toys. Jacob sleeps through the night and now calls me “mommy,” my husband “daddy,” and his sister and dog by name. He is a pleasure to be around and I am grateful for all the amazing people who have blessed our lives and helped us along the way to get where we are.
Every child who is slipping away unto himself should have the chance that Jacob had; I hope that these services can be maintained and expanded to meet the demands of this epidemic. I am forever grateful for the RESCUE of my son, Jacob William Halka.
“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.