Like many families with a child on the autism spectrum, the Binghams recognized there was something different with their child. The Bingham family includes mom and dad, Jeremy and Shannon Bingham, 5-year old Link, and now 3-month old brother Roake. At 18 months, Link was diagnosed with a speech delay. He soon began receiving speech therapy services through the Tennessee Early Intervention Service (TEIS). At 18 months, he could say about 10 words. Over the course of the next year, he began to regress to using only 2 or 3 words. His TEIS service coordinator noticed Link was demonstrating stimming behaviors – an indication of autism. Shannon observed changes in Link’s behavior when he was not understood. He would growl instead of trying to use his words. When he became frustrated, he would throw his toys.
After Link was diagnosed with Autism, Shannon began to research services to help her child. She googled Autism in Nashville and discovered AutismETC. Link was first introduced to AutismETC through the summer camp program. Shannon was a bit nervous when she began bringing Link because she had some misconceptions concerning Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy. She had heard from other parents it was rigorous therapy and she was apprehensive of the therapists being unconcerned with the needs of her child. These fears soon dissipated when Link began to bond with Kelly Maier, his behavior analyst at Autism ETC. Shannon states, “Kelly taught me to be a better parent. Kelly understood Link needed more practice with skills. If more of a demand was placed upon Link, Kelly did not let his whining or avoidance get in the way of him doing the task. Kelly redirected him or presented the task in a different way.” Shannon had not experienced anything like this before. Shannon thought when Link had a tantrum she needed to leave him alone. As Kelly continued to work with Link, all of his skills began to grow – including his language and social skills. Within a few weeks, Shannon realized this program was going to be successful in helping Link. Shannon believed Link sensed he had a friend in Kelly who understood what he was going through.
Link’s progress continued when he joined the Day Therapy Program. His language skills continue to develop. He no longer uses an augmentative communication device and his negative behaviors have decreased tremendously. When he speaks, people understand him. Shannon noted at AutismETC there is a concentrated effort to keep the clients involved with peers and with the outside world. Link also participated in the AutismETC feeding program. This program has helped expand Link’s diet. In the past, he would enjoy certain foods, then discontinue wanting to eat them. Now, he eats a variety of foods (including vegetables) and has a healthier diet.
Other improvements Shannon has observed is Link’s ability to now follow basic directions, follow a routine, and tell you what he wants. Shannon said, “this is what parents of typical children take for granted.” He now has playmates. He has learned how to seek out friends and engage with others while playing. Like many children on the autism spectrum, Link has elopement issues. A few months ago, he sprinted away from Shannon when they arrived at the center and almost made it to the road in front of the building. This issue was immediately addressed by his behavior analyst. Now Link looks at his mom and walks beside her.
Link has received services at AutismETC for three years. When asked what Shannon would advise anyone who is considering enrolling in AutismETC or are just getting started, she said, “Get involved as much as you can. The Community Training Workshops are such an asset. Spend time working with your child’s therapist so you can be on the same page and have the same goals. If you have a challenge getting insurance to pay for services, become assertive. AutismETC will work with you to get your insurance to pay for services. Search every avenue possible for funding, including family grants, to pay for services.” Shannon also said, “Do not be afraid of the methodology. AutismETC has a wonderful open-door policy where parents are encouraged to ask questions and get training in your child’s program.”
When Shannon thinks about her child’s future she realizes it was disparaging before coming to AutismETC. Now she sees Link’s future as hopeful. As a mom, Shannon wants Link to be able to attend school, have a real, best friend to play with, and enjoy childhood. After that, she sees him going to high school and college. She believes Link can enjoy life in such a way that his autism is not defining the quality of his life. She believes Link will find his niche in life where he is comfortable and confident to make it as an independent adult. Shannon sums it up by saying, “Don’t let the outside world dictate what your child can do. Get the help offered at AutismETC. The data they provide is proof of the changes taking place each day.”