“One more question, Mom,” says Landon.” “Why are those popsicles different colors?” His mom, Amy, laughs as she recalls the days when her now curious and talkative 4-year-old son could barely speak a few words, let alone a full sentence. At 18 months of age, Landon was behind on speech development. “He wouldn’t say much beyond ‘mama,’ so I took him to the doctor for a speech test,” recalls Amy. Shortly thereafter, Landon began attending a special education class and received speech and occupational therapy services through the school district.
As Landon got older, Amy and Rick were concerned that he wasn’t engaging with his peers and joining social groups like other kids his age. He was doing a lot of turning in circles and making minimal eye contact. There were also safety concerns, such as darting off into the street and running away in public. Finally, at two and a half years old, Landon was diagnosed with autism. Amy and Rick sought further help through an outpatient program.
While the services Landon was receiving through the school district were helpful, Amy felt he wasn’t getting the support he needed through their outpatient program. “We just weren’t seeing the progress we were looking for,” says Amy. “I questioned myself coming out of therapy sessions. I left feeling confused about how I could help Landon at home.” Feeling frustrated, she decided to look into other day treatment programs in the area.
Finally, Amy and Rick, came to an Autism Day Treatment (ADT) Information Session at St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development. “Right off the bat I thought ‘okay, we’re coming here!’” remembers Amy.
In June of 2018, Landon started the ADT program at St. David’s Center. “I’ve never cried leaving him somewhere,” recalls Amy “But I cried, because it was a whole new type of program to us. I was worried about whether he would like it, if he would make friends – there were so many questions going through my head.”
Through the ADT Program, a team of therapists worked collaboratively to give Landon and his family the tools they needed to support his development. “The teachers are on the floor with him, one on one, playing with him and teaching him, versus just watching him from afar,” describes Amy. They helped him learn to initiate play with his peers and gave him the tools to slow down and focus his body through activities like pulling his peers in a wagon.
Amy and Rick met weekly with Ana, a Mental Health Practitioner in the ADT Program. Each week, Ana walked them through Landon’s daily activities and explained the therapies he was receiving. “She would let us know exactly how Landon was doing, giving us tools or ideas to be helpful as parents or even if he just needed more hugs that day.” says Amy. “This is exactly what we needed. Good communication between his team and us as parents. Especially when you are trying to help your child at home. That’s the only way you can help them – through good communication.”
“What’s special about St. David’s Center is that we are truly family-centered,” says Ana. “The paths for communication are really abundant here.” Amy and Rick partnered with Landon’s care team and had daily access to each of his therapists, and even met with Ana at their home and out in the community.
“Landon would sometimes get an idea and just take off,” recalls Ana. “Because of the collaborative nature of our ADT program, as a clinician, I can say to his mom, ‘are you having the most trouble with him running off at the mall? Okay, let’s meet at the mall.’ We literally and figuratively meet children and families where they are.” At the mall, Ana showed Amy ways she can work with Landon on staying with her in public. Knowing that Landon likes to be independent and do things on his own (like many four-year-olds), Ana would say, “Landon, you can stay next to me, or I will hold your hand.” Not holding her hand was motivation enough for Landon to not take off running, even to a toy store. Working with Landon on using words to get ahead of his impulsivity was also a big part of his therapy. And now, he is very chatty and curious, and better able to focus and slow down when engaging with others.
“The strides Landon made in the program were phenomenal,” says Amy. “He came in without a whole lot of speech and there were so many social and safety concerns. It was all really scary for us. Now people comment that he is talking like crazy, and notice such a huge change. I say, ‘I know, tell me about it! We got some of the best help out there.’”
Landon graduated from the ADT Program in January of 2019. After one more year of school district preschool with a paraprofessional assisting him, Landon will enter a typical Kindergarten classroom. “It was one of our goals three years ago when we stepped into all of this – hoping and praying that by the time he gets to Kindergarten he could be in a classroom with less support. I’m so grateful that we’ve had St. David’s Center and the school district supporting us in partnership.”
Now Landon’s favorite place to go with his mom is the coffee shop. “He will go right up to the counter and say, ‘I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with yogurt and a muffin,’ then he goes right to his favorite chair,” Amy shares, grinning.
“I cried again picking up Landon on his last day at St. David’s Center,” Amy recalls. “We had the best experience here and the staff was awesome! Landon is such a wonderful boy and such a blessing in our lives. I love him so dearly and he is everything to us. Where we stand now, the future is so much brighter for him.”