Tell us your child’s story.
Before he was born, Graham had already given us a clue that parenthood was going to be a way more difficult than we ever thought it would be. Getting pregnant with our sweet boy took years, and his Mom ended up with 2 months of hospitalization for pre-eclampsia before he was born (along with various other complications). When he was born healthy, we were so relieved. He was an adorable newborn, slept through the night early, walked on time. But there were some other things that we knew weren’t going in the typical direction.
We had noticed since he was about 7 months old that he was developmentally different than a typical child. He never tried to speak words and he made very little eye contact. He didn’t like most toys and preferred stacking things and flipping through books. While he was very sweet and cuddly, he did not have much interest in other kids. Even as young as 18 months, he would get upset if we didn’t follow the same route to stores. He didn’t like most foods and only wanted to drink formula.
Graham was diagnosed with severe non-verbal Autism just a few weeks before his third birthday.
Why did you choose APT for therapy services?
We were unexpectedly transferred from Cincinnati to Louisville, and it happened to be right when we received his diagnosis. His therapists in Cincinnati recommended APT. When we moved here, Graham started attending the Endeavor Program at the amazing Carriage House Preschool, and they have a partnership with APT. He started receiving speech therapy from Kayla while he was a student there, and we were so impressed with her that we decided to have all his therapies through APT.
What improvements have you seen in your child since they started therapy at APT?
Graham’s autism is severe. He never made any attempt to speak as a baby – just his own noises – and he struggled with many things that are so basic to typical children. The therapies he has received – occupational and speech – have allowed him to achieve so many things. He’s able to communicate in ways we never imagined and has learned life skills that amaze us. In the past year, Graham started to realize that vocalizing with real words was a great way to communicate, and he has been saying words and some full sentences. This is a long process for him – not everybody would understand what he’s saying – but he’s attempting real words in his own way. And he’s getting closer and closer to speech that most people could understand. It’s been amazing to watch him achieve this when we never thought he’d use real words, and we owe so much to Kayla and Angela and all the work they’ve done with his communication. In terms of life skills, Rachel his occupational therapist has taught him so much – from handwriting to basketball to personal hygiene. He’s learned to do so many things that we never would have imagined he could handle. We are so amazed by all that he has learned and how well he has picked up these skills from his APT therapists.
What has been your brightest moment along the journey?
It’s so hard to pick just one, since even his most basic achievements are so meaningful to us. The first time I asked Graham a question and he answered with “Yes” was amazing – I can still remember where we were and what shirt he was wearing. Just being able to have a conversation with him – even something so simple – really changed our ability to relate to him. And of course, when he started to say Mom and Dad – that meant the world to us. Just the same way you feel when hearing a baby say it for the first time, but for us Graham was 9 years old.
What advice would you give other parents who face similar situations?
I think understanding that this is a long journey – and along that journey we take small steps and big steps that are equally important. You’ll have moments when you just don’t think things will ever work out, then all of a sudden, your child does something that is so incredible you never would have believed it would have happened.
Before having a child with Autism I thought speech therapy was something instant. And only about teaching somebody words. But there’s so much more to communication – so many more ways than just actual speaking. The same goes for occupational therapy. To be honest, we had no idea what occupational therapy even was. And now after seeing how it has changed Graham’s life, I can’t say how much respect we have for the therapists at APT and all they’ve done for our little guy.
Graham has had a team of therapist who have come alongside him for the past 5 years who have watched him succeed in many ways. They couldn’t be more excited to nominate him for this well deserved honor of Patient of the Month. Read below as they share more about their relationship with Graham:
How long have you been working with Graham and what improvements have you seen?
Kayla Walters, SLP: I have been working with Graham for about 5 and a half years and he has made so much progress since we began working together while he was in preschool at Carriage House. Graham has specifically made progress with his ability to produce speech sounds in words/word approximations. He also has an AAC device (an iPad with a communication app) that he uses to communicate his thoughts and ideas. He has used this since I’ve been working with him and he continues to make progress with his independence in using his device to communicate what he wants to do, talk about events from his day, and answer questions. He is able to use complete sentences and questions now whereas he used to use primarily single words to comment or respond.
Angela Baker, SLP: Graham has been a long time patient with APT but I have been seeing him since November of 2014 — almost as long as I have been working at APT! Graham predominantly uses a speech generating device to communicate. When I first started working with Graham he mainly used his device to label and answer preference based questions and only used single words. Now Graham is able to answer a variety of questions and is able to use phrases and complete sentences. He has made great progress for understanding categories to help him navigate his device and now he is able to type out responses. Now that Graham is using sentences, he is learning grammar and syntax skills. He is also learning to participate better in social conversations. Graham’s device also provides a great model for verbal speech and he attempts more verbal speech every day!
Rachel Breit, OT: I have been working with Graham since June of 2016. Graham presents with motor planning deficits, which can cause progress to come more slowly to Graham at times. Motor planning effects every little thing we do. Motor planning is the ability to observe and understand, plan, and carry out a skilled motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end. Graham requires a lot of repetition of the same skill due to these deficits. We practice, practice, practice until we’ve got it perfect.
One of our biggest accomplishments has been Graham’s ability to brush his own teeth. It took us some time, but the progress is amazing. Graham was attending desensitization appointments with his parents once a month at the Home of the Innocents in order to tolerate tooth brushing/dental procedures prior to the start of occupational therapy. Graham and I started out with a Z-Vibe (a small, vibrating desensitizing utensil) to the outside of his mouth and cheeks to improve tolerance to a toothbrush. Graham slowly, but surely allowed the Z-Vibe to touch the inside of his mouth while bouncing in his favorite swing. Fast forward to now, Graham is brushing his teeth with a regular toothbrush like a champ with very little cuing to ensure he is thorough! I have been so proud to see how far he has come with this.
Graham also has a lot of interest in basketball. We started with simple catching. Graham initially required hand over hand assist with two therapists to motor plan in order to catch a ball with two hands and toss the ball back. We then moved to shooting into a hoop both over and underhand with the use of one hand versus two. We have recently mastered being able to drop and catch a ball and now we are working on dribbling.
We are working hard to make Graham as independent as possible with his self-care. Since LOTS of repetition and practice is so important to Graham’s success, it also takes a lot from Graham’s amazing parents. We have been working on sequencing all the steps of showering, applying deodorant, zipping, and turning a shirt right side out. These are a lot of things people without disabilities take for granted, but it is so important for Graham to practice in order to be independent and successful.
Describe a little about your and Graham’s relationship.
Kayla Walters, SLP: I have thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to watch Graham grow up these past several years. He was still a “little kid” when we started working together but he has really matured over the past 5 years. I don’t have to worry about him trying to elope and run to the swings anymore (he now knows to ask permission first!). One of my favorite things to do with Graham is read books- and I think it’s grown to be one of his favorite activities, too! Since he’s made so much progress with his speech, he will now read along with me and fill in words when I leave them out or when I pause for him to finish the sentence. He is SUCH a sweet kid and I’m so very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him and his amazing family!
Angela Baker, SLP: Graham has always had very specific interests and favorite activities especially when it comes to coming to therapy. I learned very quickly that he is not a fan of crafts but loves movement breaks and swinging. I feel like we have built a very trusting relationship and that works well for our therapy sessions. Graham has an infectious smile and laugh that can make your day but on the rare occasion that he isn’t feeling himself, it will totally break your heart. Graham’s family is very involved in APT and community events. I love when we run in to each other out in the community and see his reaction to a familiar face!
Rachel Breit, OT: Graham and I have a serious therapy routine. We start with swinging and other sensory activities to work on calming Graham’s body in order to focus. He loves to try and spin on the swings and get himself more amped up, which he knows I am going to stop! Graham also loves to run off from me to the next step in our routine and he also knows it makes me nutty! He has been so much better about waiting for me to clean up and get things together before we can progress to the next activity together. Graham’s family does a fantastic job keeping me up to date on all the things he loves, sending me videos and pictures of their weekends, and updating me on the successes they see. It has been fantastic to work with them and watch Graham grow. They are a wonderful family and he is an awesome kid.