by Linda Burns~
So here my husband and I sit in the waiting room of a highly-respected pediatric neurologist at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My son is lining up building blocks all in a row; my husband is pretending to read a magazine and the only thing I could think of is, I need to be strong for both of them.
I can’t imagine how devastating it must be for a father to hear that his little boy has autism, especially when this father already bought him his first pair of hockey skates and had visions of him playing ice hockey, just as he did growing up. Yet I knew in my heart that if we didn’t get consumed by this diagnosis, we could devote our time to researching and providing our little boy with the proper schooling, therapy and intervention necessary to give him the best shot at life; that is, whatever “life” may have in store for him. And then we heard the words, “Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Burns, your son has autism.”
That had to be the longest and most quiet walk the three of us had ever taken while going from the hospital to the parking garage and then back to our home. Our son wanting to skip over each and every crack in the sidewalk, and if we skipped one he would have a meltdown; while my husband and I were just oblivious to all the hustle and bustle of the city streets because we were just eager to get home, digest all of this and come up with a plan of action.
I had researched ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, known to some as behavior modification, and now it was time to present it to Washington Township School District. Please keep in mind, this was 1996 and our son was the first child in our district to undergo an ABA home-based program. Fortunately for us, we were welcomed into the office of the Principal of the Preschool Program for children with special needs with open arms and he listened attentively. He then nodded and said, “I heard this started out at UCLA; what do we need to do to get the ball rolling”?
So, now it was time to post signs (yes, pre-internet) at local colleges, because now we had to start interviewing candidates to provide 40 hours of ABA in our home, seven days a week, 12 months a year, until our son was perhaps in high school. Of course, we were able to decrease the number of hours per week over those 14 years, but nevertheless, he never had a summer off or a vacation away from ABA!
Fast-forward, we just celebrated his 21st Birthday! He is a Junior at Rowan University as a mathematics major. He commutes to school, works with my husband in his lawn care business, helps manage the administrative end of my court reporting firm, loves sports and eating out, has many friends and has had his share of girlfriends! I attribute his success to his ABA program, his strong constitution and a heck of a lot of hard work!
…and the vow I made 15 years ago was to lay my head down at night knowing that perhaps we did more than we needed to, rather than find out five years down the road that what we did wasn’t enough.