Patrick will be 16 in December and is in his second year in attendance in the SOAR program at Including Kids. When people talk about autism and the use of applied behavior analysis (ABA), they talk about the importance of doing an intense program very young so that perhaps they can be mainstreamed into regular education classrooms as quickly as possible. Patrick is a visible example that you can still be a teenager and benefit tremendous from the same type of program.
Patrick was diagnosed in 1997 at 18 months of age. Because of complicated events, by 2006 Patrick lost 81% of all the skills he ever learned. For the first time ever, Patrick started having serious behavior issues. Once all his skills to communicate were gone, he had no other way but to express communication other than in self-injurious behaviors. All the money and time that we had invested in Patrick privately to pay for speech therapy, a home program, and training for the school staff became a significant loss, but these losses would never match the grief of seeing our child go from a happy, loving, gentle soul to a child angry, frustrated, and hurting himself so badly that it looked like he had been abused. The stress had taken a significant toll on our family life and my health.
We called Including Kids to see if they could help provide in-home consultation for our potential homeschooling when we learned about their new program, SOAR Academy. When we met with staff and were asked if we thought Patrick was a good fit for the program, we honestly did not know. Autism had taken a huge financial toll already, so we did not know how we were going to pay for this. However, somewhere in our souls, we knew we had to try. We took a step off a cliff not knowing if there was going to be a safety net to catch us on our fall. All we had was our faith that somehow everything would be okay. Faith manages.
In the first 9 days at Including Kids, he was already signing 3 to 4-word sentences and had learned 3 new signs. Every day I took the long drive home, I cried tears of joy because he was finally with people who saw his limitless potential. The sheer number of accomplishments from his August 2010 to December 2011 tenure at Including Kids would fill several pages. After one month, he tolerated his first rock concert, just one of the many firsts. He cares about things now and wants to make choices. He is shaking his head yes and no in response to questions appropriately. Clothes are being put on with just supervision. Two events stand out in my memory during this time period. A chip went down his throat the wrong way and his eyes started to water. I asked him, "What's wrong?" He signed, "Help me" and then put his hands around his neck. It has been one of our greatest fears that Patrick's life span would be cut short because he could not tell anybody what was hurting him. In 11 years, neither we nor the school district could teach him this concept. Yet, here in this magical place, they did it in 4 short months. Another beautiful moment occurred when I was sitting on the bed. I asked him to sit next to me. He did, then turned to me, tapped his fingers on my chest and said (verbally), "Mom." A single-word symphony I will forever cherish. New talents have emerged such as planting things and cooking. Patrick has gone sailing. He also has another classmate who I could consider his first friend.
Patrick has moved from the darkness into the light again. He shows pride in his accomplishments. His sense of humor has returned. We often get notes home that tell us he just would not stop laughing all day long.
In August of 2010, we were not sure at all if SOAR Academy was the right fit for Patrick. Now, we cannot imagine him being anywhere else. Every one of these people at Including Kids embody what it means to be a true teacher, not merely an educator. Their dedication to the children and to their families does not stop at the classroom. Because the approach is so intensive, this kind of support for children with autism is costly. There are children on a waiting list who desperately need this school's assistance. Your donation to Team Patrick not only helps Patrick but all the children in this wonderful place and families waiting to be helped. Please help Including Kids continue to operate and grow so they can create a pathway for as many children as possible towards a life of not only working and personal independence, but also a life full of the same love and happiness and pleasures that you enjoy. On behalf of our family, we thank you.