By Lynn Watson
Your Voice Contributor
FEAT of Louisville saved my son and my family. I say that without exaggeration and not for dramatic effect, but literally. We are now more or less a typical family. My husband and I help our son with his homework, call him home to dinner when he is out playing with the neighbor children, go out to dinner, to the State Fair every year, go to museums and ride roller coasters every summer. We enjoy most all the activities that parents of a 12-year-old boy should enjoy. We never thought we would.
Our first exposure to FEAT came in the form of meeting other parents who had been through what we were then experiencing, the horror of an autism diagnosis, and had survived. These parents in our community readily shared information about treatments and services which might help our then 2-year-old son. Moreover, the comfort which came from meeting others who were doing what they needed to do to help their children with autism thrive and maximize their potential was invaluable to us. For the first time in months, we had what every parent should have where their child is concerned: hope.
We soon enrolled our son, Cade, in the Endeavor Program, an intensive therapy-based preschool program for children with autism which was the result of a collaborative effort between FEAT and Carriage House Educational Services. During Cadeâ€™s years at Endeavor, he was transformed from a non-verbal, marginally functional and frustrated toddler into a verbally expressive, capable and independent, if quirky, young preschooler. Cade also participated in the Getting our FEAT Wet swimming program, another collaborative program fostered by FEAT, which taught him both a life-saving skill and instilled in him for the first time a sense of accomplishment and confidence he had not yet experienced. Through various social programs and events sponsored by FEAT, Cade interacted with and met his first friends. Our journey had begun.
By the time Cade entered kindergarten in a mainstream, public program, he had learned to interact with his peers and to, for the most part, participate fully in the mainstream program offered at his school, with limited participation in special education services. By the end of his third grade year, he â€œgraduatedâ€ from his schoolâ€™s special program and was fully immersed the following Fall into the fourth grade. The little boy who had entered the Endeavor Program several years earlier barely noticing children his own age began to socialize with his peers outside of the school setting, with neighbor children ringing our doorbell asking for Cade to â€œcome out to play.â€ This seems like an inevitable childhood â€œrite of passage,â€ but to parents of a child with autism, it is a measure of progress seemingly inconceivable. My husband and I honestly cried the first time that doorbell rang.
This year, in the fifth grade, Cade, our son with autism who had been non-verbal until the age of 5, became an Academic Team Champion for his school, helping them to capture a Governorâ€™s Cup victory by very successfully completing a written test and then by buzzing in on various quick-recall questions alongside the rest of his â€œtypicalâ€ teammates. Even more heartwarming to his father and to me, those teammates embraced, encouraged and cheered for our non-typical son every step of the way.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. There is no known cure for autism. Cade will always be â€œquirkyâ€ and will struggle with social interactions, probably his entire life. Our journey is far from over and likely never will be. I also give credit where credit is due, and I know Cade is intelligent and resilient and has propelled his own successes. For that reason, he is and always will be my hero. However, without access to and participation in early intervention therapies and programs fostered and supported by FEAT, Cade would not be where he is today. Nowhere near. He has continued to build on the foundation FEAT created for him and has exceeded all our most optimistic expectations for his progress. I can say firsthand and without reservation that the interventions and programs supported by FEAT can and do make a tremendous difference in the lives of children like Cade, helping them to overcome their own particular weaknesses and to build on their own individual strengths. Every child should have the opportunity to maximize his or her potential, and that is the gift FEAT gives to families like mine everyday.
Outrunning Autism 5k 9th annual Run & Fun Walk
Hit the Street for FEAT at the 9th Annual Outrunning Autism 5K Run & Fun Walk. The Run/Walk will take place at The Parklands at Floyds Fork – Beckley Creek Park and the One-Mile Fun Walk will travel around The Egglawn. Rain or shine. There will be food and drinks as well as activities for the kids. For more information, go to www.featoflouisville.org.
Contact Lynn Watson at email@example.com.