Our son Macs was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. We noticed some of the signs at age two (his lack of interaction with others as well as his nonverbal behavior); however, the process of getting officially diagnosed in the UK was a very lengthy and difficult process. After doing research and getting advice, we saw a friend whose son had autism and was being treated by Autism Partnership and were impressed by the approach.
We began 1:1 services and have been with Autism Partnership for the last 6 years.
While Macs was doing well with his 1:1 treatment in the UK, we wanted to see more improvement with his social development. Fortunately, our family had the opportunity to visit California in the summer of 2007 and that was Macs’ first experience with Autism Partnership’s Summer Program. We have always been impressed by the services we have with AP, but it is fair to say we were blown away by the breadth of the activities and opportunities available within the Summer Program.
Macs’ program consisted of a social skills group in the morning and a mixture of 1:1 therapy and other social groups in the afternoon. As parents it was so rewarding for us to observe and participate in many of the sessions. We learned several new techniques and decided to really push ourselves working with Macs as much as we could. It was a fabulous experience for Macs. The work of the therapists and groups really supported Macs overcoming the challenge of meeting so many new people and getting used to different accents and vocabulary, which was an education for all involved – you forget that although we speak the same language, we can have different expressions for things. He made a number of great friends with staff and peers alike and is now bi-lingual – UK and American English.
Outside of the program, the environment in California offered many more outdoor opportunities for community activities with Macs. The weather made for a great outdoor lifestyle and given that we approached the trip as probably a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, we made every effort to do as much as possible in our own time. This ranged from swimming, going to the beach, restaurants, amusement parks, zoos, etc., to visiting attractions and locations on weekends, which we thought could be very challenging for Macs. It really pushed the boundaries for what we thought Macs and, therefore the whole family, could cope with (such as the visual and aural stimulus of Las Vegas and its shows – he loved LOVE; being cool with a Grand Canyon helicopter flight – more than his mother, who has an aversion to flying!). It was amazing what progress he made and how much more confident and relaxed we could be in the wider community. This was something that has helped us enormously since returning to the UK.
Another benefit of the Summer Program was interacting and networking with other parents who had come from different parts of the world. There’s comfort in exchanging similar experiences and also knowing you’re not alone. There is also great joy and fulfillment in exchanging stories and “best practices” with each other so pitfalls can be avoided and successes embraced.
A critical component to Macs’ success and our family’s happiness and cohesiveness, was Autism Partnership’s counseling services. They really take a comprehensive view of the family and family dynamics, ensuring that all family members have an opportunity to share feelings, express themselves, etc. For example, our daughter, Maia, who is 3 years older than Macs, was able to talk to someone about her feelings and experiences as the sibling of a child with autism. It was tremendously helpful for Maia to receive this support and advice.
Macs and our family as a whole got so much out of the Summer Program, that when we were able to make another trip in summer 2008 we jumped at the chance. Macs loved the Program and we have seen tremendous improvements in the areas of social interaction and general compliance. Following his time on the summer program his school teachers were really surprised and delighted with the improvements in Macs’ ability at school.
Currently (in the UK) Macs attends a mainstream classroom with 1:1 support by an Autism Partnership UK therapist. He is doing well making real progress with peer interaction, increasingly broadening his verbal skills, mastering life skills and accessing education.
Life with autism is a challenge and we are still on the journey with Macs, but are encouraged by his progress and continue to be surprised by his gains. The support and opportunities Autism Partnership has given us both at home and abroad have played a significant part in that progress.
Gary and Angela Owen