When Jack was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Global Development Delay in December 2015, we, as parents, didn’t know much about these conditions. After much reading up on them, we discovered that Early Intervention could be extremely beneficial in assisting in children’s development with these types of conditions. So we did some research and came across the Ark Centre, a local centre specialising in Autism, offering intensive therapy sessions by trained therapists in behavioural, speech and language and occupational therapies.
Jack started at the Ark in May 2016 and at this time he was non-verbal, had difficulties with postural control, had poor gross and fine motor skills, struggled to mark make, match and sort and showed little interest in any interaction with other children.
Jack is a happy child who took to the Ark sessions from the beginning. The therapists made Jack feel extremely comfortable and we found that very reassuring. He looks forward to every session, even though he is worked very hard, but he does have fun at the same time. The therapists have really got to know and understand Jack, knowing what motivates him, and using these motivators to push him into doing the activities he needs to learn, and rewarding him when he achieves his goals. Where Jack didn’t have a particularly effective communication system prior to the Ark, Picture Exchange Cards (PECs) were introduced which helped Jack communicate his needs with pictures, and he took to this really well and this was then introduced at home, and at preschool – giving Jack the communication skills he desperately needed. This has now progressed to using PECs in sentences so, for example, he can ask ‘mum/dad I want water, instead of just giving us a picture card for water.
Jack has had occupational therapy since he started at the Ark, and Charlotte, Jack’s OT Therapist, has been predominantly focussing on developing his core strength and gross and fine motor skills .This has resulted in Jack gaining much more confidence in doing every day things including climbing and descending on stairs, hand washing, and holding crayons/pens much more competently. Jack can even climb into the car now independently which demonstrates just how much his core strength has improved.
Jack started speech and language therapy at the end of March 2017, when it was thought it was the right time for Jack to fully benefit from this therapy. Bethanie and Jane have worked hard to help enhance Jack’s communication system with the use of PECs, whilst also introducing techniques to improve his weak oral motor skills, and improving his joint attention and functional play skills.
The majority of Jack’s time at the Ark has been spent having Behavioural Therapy. Jack’s key worker Sarah, together with the other therapists that have Jack from time to time have been excellent in working on key social interaction activities, such as turn taking, and helping Jack to express himself through the use of toys and messy play. They also reinforce and align their activities with the OT and SLT goals that are currently being worked on.
I think one of the best things about Jack attending the Ark is that the therapists have been able to advise us of which activities Jack responds well to, and which ones he doesn’t. This has been further supported by the six weekly reviews which provide a great insight into where Jack has progressed, and which areas need more focus. With us both working, this has been extremely beneficial as we know that some of our time we spend with him at home can be spent working on specific, targeted activities, as opposed to having to spend our time trying to work out what best to do ourselves.
We believe that the fantastic support and expertise provided by the highly skilled therapists at the Ark has been instrumental in progressing Jack’s development, not only by what is learnt at the therapy sessions, but providing advice and support on what we can work on with Jack at home, and how he can be supported within his preschool setting. We have been fortunate enough to give Jack the Ark’s support during this important, impressionable time in his early years. To enable the Ark to be more accessible to other children like Jack would be a great opportunity for any child diagnosed with ASD, and a huge comfort to other parents like us.