Meet the Jeffers Family Autism ETC’s August Family of the Month

Autism ETC serves several families with more than one child on the spectrum. The Jeffers Family is one of these special families, and they are our August Family of the Month. Ryan and Cara Jeffers have twin sons, Thatcher and Sebastian. They are both on the autism spectrum. Their mother Cara told us their story.

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It begins when the boys were born prematurely. “Due to their prematurity, my sons were being followed by the NICU at Vanderbilt. We were aware that our sons may have some delays because they were both males born prematurely, but by age two, I was concerned that they were not hitting their milestones. My husband Ryan serves in the army, and we were given orders for us to move to Hawaii. We wanted to have the boys tested before we were transferred. The staff at Vanderbilt assisted us with getting an evaluation to determine if our sons were on the autism spectrum. After the boys were diagnosed, we started the process of getting them into the exceptional family program through Tricare. We learned there was a long wait to get services in Hawaii. Paperwork was submitted on our behalf so our sons could continue their care in Clarksville and my husband was re-assigned to another job at Fort Campbell.”

Cara continues their story, “We moved from Kentucky to Clarksville as we looked for services for our sons. We tried to work with the school system, but that did not work for us. We began services with another provider in the area. We had started speech therapy and occupational therapy with them. After our sons were diagnosed, we inquired about ABA therapy. We soon added it to our schedule of services. Both Thatcher and Sebastian made progress. Sebastian had begun saying individual words and made three-word requests. Thatcher was still non-verbal. He would make vocal approximations of the things he wanted. Over time, Thatcher began to develop self-injurious behaviors and Sebastian began to display anxiety when we were in public places. We felt like we had plateaued because we were not making any progress.”

“As I was driving, I saw a new building in Clarksville with the sign ‘Autism ETC,’ and I decided to do a Google search,” said Cara. “I contacted the center and Kayla Ziolko, the Clinical Manager, gave me a tour and informed me about the Day Therapy Program. I felt like this was a perfect fit,. In November of 2019, we were scheduled to start services. It was a very positive experience for me. Each of the staff was very competent. I knew they understood what we were trying to accomplish. They tested both of my sons to assess their existing skills. The staff is thorough in their approach. They identify goals for the boys to attain and then make sure my children have mastered the goal before the move to the next goal. They also ensure the boys are able to maintain the skills they have acquired.”

Cara went on to share, “Thatcher and Sebastian participate in the Day Therapy Program six hours per day, five days per week. In the eight months we have been coming for services, both of my children have made wonderful progress. Sebastian has gained the confidence to become more independent. His communication skills have increased drastically! He is often using four or more words together to request things. Thatcher has also improved. He has become more interested in things outside of ‘his world’. Recently, we had family come to visit. Much to our delight, he was engaged with them which was completely different. In the past, he only wanted to be alone. He is still working on his communication skills. He uses a PECS system to make one-word requests. He listens to what we say, and he does not seem to push his own agenda.”

With her experience parenting a child on the spectrum, Cara shares these insights: “Do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to change providers if you feel you need to do so. If you do not feel like your child’s needs are being met, don’t be afraid to search and find the resources you need. Changing providers was hard for me to do, but Autism ETC has been a very positive experience for me and my children.”

As she looks to the future for her children, Cara said, “I have high hopes now. Making the choice for my sons to participate in the Day Therapy Program has given them the best chance to make the most progress. The other options we had would not have helped my sons like this program.. Things may have been bleak for them before, but now I feel with Autism ETC’s help, they are on the right path for an independent future.”

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