The Booker’s first learned about AutismETC in 2010 when they became one of the center’s first families. The family includes mom (Rena), dad (Barry), and sons Clay and Bryan. Clay (age 16) and Bryan (age 14) have always been close, both in age and friendship. Clay was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Approximately one year later, Bryan was diagnosed as having an intellectual disability. He was later diagnosed with autism. Rena first heard about the center through an AutismETC staff member who was working in a pre-k program Clay attended. Observing Clay’s behaviors, the staff member felt Clay would benefit from the services provided at AutismETC. Rena got in touch with the center and enrolled Clay in the summer camp program at the Nashville location. The following year, Bryan attended summer camp with his brother.
Before the children started receiving services, Rena’s thought was, “I need help”. The boys were very difficult and she could not take them anywhere. Clay’s behaviors included running and flapping his arms. He would frequently repeat phrases from Thomas the Tank Engine. Once they started services with AutismETC, everything began to change. Along with both Clay and Bryan attending summer camp each year, they have also received ABA therapy, in-home therapy, feeding therapy and are now enrolled in social skills classes.
The therapist who worked with the boys told Rena, “I’m here to help, but you have to follow through”. They conducted a VB-MAPP assessment and developed goals for the boys. Rena bought into the program and started running her home like a 24-hour therapy session. She spent hours working on their goals each day. Through the help of AutismETC and Rena’s consistent work, both Clay and Bryan have made great progress. Both boys’ conversation and social skills have improved. The boys play basketball most Sunday afternoons with their dad at the YMCA, go horseback riding at Saddle Up and take gymnastics. Clay and Bryan love swimming, taking walks around the neighborhood, riding bikes, and driving go-karts.
The Bookers are also active in their church. They attend Grace Chapel, Leiper’s Fork. Because of Barry’s insistence there should be a place for his sons at church, the church responded by starting a special needs ministry called “CanDo Ministry”.
Rena continues to have hope for her sons’ future. She believes the boys will be able to have jobs. Clay plans to live independently and wants to have Bryan share his apartment. Clay helps care for Bryan. Both boys areable to independently perform self-care skills such as taking showers and brushing their teeth. On the rare occasion that Rena and Barry oversleep, Clay has gotten himself and Bryan ready for school. He goes to his parent’s room and announces they are ready to get on the bus for school. With Clay’s supervision, Rena is able to leave the home for a few hours at a time, knowing everything will be okay. Clay once had sensory issues with noise. He has overcome his sensitivity and now enjoys playing guitar. Bryan also enjoys music and is beginning to play the piano.
When asked what Rena would say to families who have recently had their child diagnosed or are just starting therapy, she advised, “Be open to new things. Take it one day at a time. Remember to breathe”. In 2015, the family lost their insurance coverage for ABA therapy. At that point, Rena used the tools she had been given to keep therapy going in her home. AutismETC provided summer camp scholarships for the boys. In a thank-you note sent to AutismETC, Rena expressed her appreciation, “Thank you so much for helping us with the camp expenses over the years. We are so grateful. My husband works tirelessly to provide for our family. Everybody in our family is thankful for behavioral health services. Thank you for helping ease that burden, especially the last 2 years. Our children would not be where they are today without the kindness, generosity, and care from AutismETC.”
Photos courtesy of Coleman Art Photography.