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Family of the Month: “Zachary’s Story”

This month we are featuring Zachary Chamber’s story. Zachary’s story first appeared in the March, 2019 newsletter. Here are exerts from his original story along with an update on Zachary’s progress:

Zachary, started receiving services at Autism ETC in July, 2018. Kasondra Chambers, Zachary’s mom, explains, “Before Zachary was 1 year of age, he was not reaching milestones like his older brothers. I mentioned this to his pediatrician, but it was not until Zachary was about 15 months old that I really noticed the signs of autism. He began rocking, spinning wheels, lining items up, and banging his head against the floor. He had started to babble early on, but even that skill disappeared.” Kasondra knew she had to do something and fast. She involved Zachary in case studies at the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University which led to his diagnosis of Autism. Zachary was then enrolled into an elementary school pre-k half day program, five days a week. He received various types of therapy; however, he made limited progress.

One day Weston, Zachary’s dad, discovered Autism ETC on Holt Road when he saw the sign for the center (Autism ETC’s previous location). He told Kasondra about it and they began to investigate the center. Checking the website, Kasondra read the story of June 2018’s family of the month. Her research led Kasondra to believe Autism ETC would be a place of hope.

Kasondra attempted to enroll Zachary in a summer program. However, with his limited skills, Zachary was not a good fit. Instead, Kasondra was told Zachary would benefit from the Day Therapy Program. When Zachary started the program, he was non-verbal, made no eye contact, had no peer interaction, and spent much of his time flapping his hands in a stim. He stayed to himself and showed no interest in doing the things other children his age enjoyed.

“In the 9 months since he started at Autism ETC,” Kasondra shared, “He now interacts with peers and shows interest in what they are doing. He makes eye contact when he is communicating with a peer or staff member. He has learned some sign language and uses a PECS system and a communication device to communicate. He colors and participates in art and crafts and engages in social play with other children. He uses a picture schedule and has learned to put things away when an activity ends. He has learned to follow simple directions and his negative behaviors have decreased significantly. He is making more sounds and is saying the word ‘up’ on a regular basis.”

Fast-forward to today:
We recently caught up with Kasondra to learn about Zachary’s progress. Kasondra reports, “Zachary has made great progress using his Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device. He is able to create sentences. He can correctly identify his family members and communicate correct information including his address and his parent’s phone numbers. He used it with members of the police and fire department when they came to visit Autism ETC. He can effectively communicate his basic needs on a daily basis. He is able to locate the words and phrases he needs to use on his device. He continues to use sign language for potty, more and all done. He has stepped away from using the PECS system. He is able to communicate a lot more verbally being able to talk in short sentences. He can respond with simple answers, sing some songs and read some sight words, trace letters and he is able to do some math problems. He can play independently and interact with toys, games and puzzles correctly. His recognition skills have advanced significantly and he can accurately label and identify actions and things in pictures or in person. His behaviors have significantly diminished. He barely has any behavioral issues. He also participates in Cub Scouts and he loves going camping which is something I never thought he would do. He can follow 3 step commands. He has made great progress with his toileting skills. He has also learned life skills including sorting laundry, how to hang up his pants and shirts, fold socks and clean up after himself. He has also learned homelife skills including how to grocery shop, push a cart, scan and bag items and how to pay for items.”

Looking to the future, Kasondra said, “We have made plans for Zachary to transition from Autism ETC to 3rd grade in a public-school setting at the end of 2023. When I met with his special education teacher and informed her that Zachary already knows how to sit at a desk and has mastered other classroom skills including transitioning, she was amazed. I feel confident in Zachary having a successful transition into public school because of all the tools he has learned from Autism ETC’s unique learning environment and individual therapy plan. I attribute Zachary’s success to the program at Autism ETC. The way the Day Therapy Program at Autism ETC is designed sets it apart from other programs. Their program mimics learning in a traditional school setting and it will be a seamless transition when Zachary goes to school in January.”

When Zachary came to Autism ETC 5 years ago, Kasondra shared, “He had no words and he did not know how to express himself and work through his behaviors. Now he has words, he can express his needs and his behavioral issues have decreased. Now he can fully engage and learn, not have those hurdles slowing him down. It’s incredible! I feel truly blessed my son was able to have time at this amazing ABA therapy center. He now has the tools for success when he leaves Autism ETC.”

Zachary’s story concludes with these quotes from Kasondra from the first story, “Autism ETC gives me hope for my child and the belief that my had a fighting chance. Kelly Maier (Zachary’s BCBA) has taught me you can’t judge your child by another child’s progress. Each child has their own abilities.” Zachary’s success is proving this to be true.