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Family of the Month: “Anna’s Story”

Meet Anna Van Dijk, a five-year old who receives services at Autism ETC – Glendale. The Van Dijk family includes Robert (dad), Ashley (mom) and younger sister Hazel.

Ashley, Anna’s mother shares the story. “Around 18 months of age I noticed Anna was not meeting speech and social milestones. She was not interested in the things a typical child her age would be interested in. She would do things backwards. When I completed the questionnaires at the pediatrician’s office it became apparent that Anna was developing differently. When I expressed my concerns to Anna’s pediatrician, the doctor said she would grow out of it. By the time she was 2 years old, she had not ‘grown out of it’ and it was becoming more evident that Anna needed help. We were referred to a developmental pediatrician to do testing, but there was a 13 month wait. In the meantime, I began to do research to see what I could do to help my child. Anna attended a few sessions of speech therapy which we had to pay for out of pocket since she was not diagnosed. I carefully observed how the therapist worked with Anna so I could work with her at home. I also looked up YouTube videos and learned about ABA therapy. I observed various techniques and I created a space in my home where I could work with Anna implementing the skills I had learned watching the videos.”

Ashley continued, “Anna was diagnosed at age 3 with autism and I began to seek out ABA services that were either center or home based. I checked with various ABA providers to see if they were in or out of network with our insurance plan. Our insurance plan informed us about Autism ETC being in-network; however, I thought the center was too far away. We tried some other providers and for various reasons, they were not the right fit for Anna. Eventually, I met a parent at Anna’s preschool who told me about Autism ETC and how nice it was so I decided to contact the center. We met with Kayla Ziolko, Clinical Manager for Autism ETC – Glendale. When we met Kayla we learned that we shared the same values and I was impressed with the way Kayla talked to and respected Anna. It made me feel at home.”

When Anna began services at the center Ashley shared, “Anna was not able to express how she felt. Anna was totally into her books. She never became aggressive when she could not express herself, she would just break down and cry. She tried to ask for help but was unable to do so. I feel like she did not understand that she needed help. She also needed help with fine motor skills. I was impressed with the program at Autism ETC. The program is play-based and is positive and fun. I felt like my daughter was being heard and the level of care is amazing. I felt like Kayla cared about Anna and wanted to help her. I also loved the open-door policy where I can come in, sit in, and watch and learn. As a parent, I felt welcomed and heard.”

Anna comes to Autism ETC 3 days per week along with attending pre-school, speech therapy, occupational therapy and adaptive swim classes. Ashley said, “Autism ETC offered a schedule that worked with my family and the other services Anna receives. All the services complement each other and have helped Anna. Because of this, Anna has made great progress. Her first year of developmental Pre-K was okay. In her second year of developmental Pre-K, Anna was at Autism ETC and she did amazing because she was able to talk and express her feelings and her need for help. She loves coming to Autism ETC and looks forward to it every time we go. She is excited and is able to express her excitement.”

Ashley discussed how the parent training has been helpful to her. “The training has been extremely helpful. I am able to take home what is done at the center. By watching how the staff redirects and explains things to Anna when she has difficulty with transitioning, I have learned different methods I can implement when Anna has difficulty at home.”

The advice Ashley would share with other families is this: “Do your research. I watched a lot of YouTube videos so I could learn various ABA techniques. Find out what works for your child and find the right therapist who is a match with your child and your family. When you find this combination, your child will flourish and succeed.”

Looking to the future for Anna, Ashley shared, “This fall Anna will be attending kindergarten in the mornings and coming to Autism ETC in the afternoons. Eventually services will be faded so that Anna will attend kindergarten full-time and come to the center after school. Because of Anna’s progress, she is able to express herself and interact with typical children. She is learning to ‘go with the flow’. Previously she had a hard time not understanding why she did not want to do some of the things other children wanted to do. She is learning to understand others as she is learning to identify her feelings and the feelings of others. In order to function in this world surrounded by people, this is a skill that is needed and this will help her to be successful in school and life.”