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When Ridley was one, his mother Amber noticed that his newly developing vocabulary was somewhat limited“He’d say a few words,” she recalls, “but he didn’t say ‘Mama’.” At the time, Ridley’s pediatrician wasn’t overly concerned, but Amber’s maternal instinct compelled her to monitor his progress, until at two, another visit to the pediatrician led to a referral to their school district’s early childhood special education program. It was there that the staff observed some additional red flags for autism – developmental disorder that Amber and her husband had some familiarity with, given their family history (Ridley’s uncle has an autism diagnosis). At three and a half, Ridley received a medical diagnosis of autism and speech sound disorder“It was hard,” says Amber, “but we have a really good support system” – a support system that includes her best friend, a preschool teacher working with special needs children, who highly recommended St. David’s Center. 

Ridley had begun occupational and speech therapy through their medical provider, but in April 2020, the pandemic brought everything to a grinding halt, including Ridley’s services. However, St. David’s Center had quickly pivoted to a telehealth model to minimize disruption in services, and Ridley was able to start speech and occupational therapy as well as mental health services immediately, with the option of consistent weekly schedule. This consistency has been a key component in his remarkable progress, especially in his ability to navigate transitions and self-regulation. “He is much more flexible,” states Amber. “It used to be, if he wanted to do something, he had to do it. With [mental health therapist] Erin, he has to take turns back and forth, and he is a lot better about listening, adding, “he is able to calm down and not get so upset immediately.” 

The strategies that Ridley is learning have equally impacted the ability of Amber and her husband to support their son. “Being more hands on with telehealth has definitely given me more skills to be able to help him and help myself, especially working on his calming strategies,” affirms Amber. “That helps with my calming, too.”  

Recently, Ridley has been able to transition to in-person occupational therapy, a move that was facilitated by his therapist Kate. “Kate was really good about being structured but also flexible,” says Amber. “He definitely transitioned well to being in-person.” After essentially being home for a year, the opportunity to engage in person has been a welcome change for Amber’s “social, inquisitive, and funny” little boy. “He loves it!” she enthuses. “He loves to be around other people. He loves being able to jump and climb and do all sorts of stuff that he can’t do at home. The social distancing measures in place at Ridley’s preschool have also meant limited contact with his peers. Now, the five-year-old can interact with other kids in St. David’s Center’s occupational therapy gym. “In person with OT, he is in another gym with another kid, which I really wanted because he hasn’t really been around kids too mucheven at school right now. They play well together,” says Amber. 

Whether via telehealth or in person, Ridley’s connection to his therapists is undeniable. As Amber states, “He’ll ask, Are we going to talk to Katie [speech therapist] today?’ And now when we go in person, he’s really excited to go see Cassie. It’s likeI can’t wait to go see Cassie, can we go today?’ 

Amber, for her part, is grateful that she heeded that early instinctual inner voice that compelled her to seek help. Her advice to other parents is simple and speaks to the positive impact of early intervention. “Trust your gut,” she affirms. “If you see something that doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and fight for it. I’m glad we were able to get into St. David’s Center early because being able to do all this while he’s still young has been very helpful.” 

For Ridley, who will start kindergarten in the fall, the path to independence is paved with myriad strategies that he has acquired during his time at St. David’s Center, as well as the unerring support of his family“He’s learning these common strategies on his own and we’re starting to implement them, to get him to be able to do them more by himself or with a different adult other than me or his dad, states Amber. “That definitely opens up things for him!” 

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