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Even before toddler Cole was officially diagnosed with Autism, his parents attended a workshop that was a game changer for the whole family.
April 30, 2021

Discovering your child has Autism: One family’s story

At the age of 15 months, Cole knew every letter and the sounds it made but couldn’t say “mama” or “daddy.”

“He could label almost everything in his surroundings but wouldn’t use his words to ask for what he needed or wanted,” says Glenda, Cole’s mother. “He would only grab our hands to lead us to things.”

By the time Cole was 18 months old, his parents were certain he had Autism, but the family faced a long wait for diagnostic assessments. It took another year for him to be officially diagnosed with Autism.

Learning the ABCs of Autism

Luckily, Cole and his family could still start using the resources at the McMaster Children’s Hospital Autism Program before he received an official diagnosis.

While Cole was on the waitlist for an assessment, an autism specialist from the program reached out to the family and recommended they attend a program called Social ABCs.

This parent coaching program teaches parents strategies to encourage their toddler with Autism to communicate and interact with others.

“This was a game changer for us,” says Glenda. “Cole was 20 months and since then, he gradually learned to use his words.”

Shortly after Cole was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years and 6 months, his family enrolled him in Beginning Social Skills, a group therapy workshop that builds social communication and learning skills including interactive play and verbal requests.

In the workshop, Cole learned to allow other children in his personal space. He and his family also learned about the Premack principle (the “first – then” concept) to help guide behaviour.

“To this day [the Premack principle] is our most valuable tool in preventing meltdowns during transitions,” says Glenda.

“Welcomed as though he was a star”

The family’s experience with the McMaster Children’s Hospital Autism Program at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre in Hamilton was a game changer from day one.

“The first day my child attended group therapy in Ron Joyce, he was welcomed as though he were a star when he came into the room,” recalls Glenda.

“Finally, there were people who celebrated with us in tiny bits the progress he made,” she says. “These were the therapists who knew how much work he puts into every skill he learns.”

Cole and his family are still using the resources at Ron Joyce. These days they regularly attend virtual social groups on weekends, which help support Cole’s social development, improving his communication and social skills.

The virtual meetups are especially useful during the pandemic because “social skills, in particular, are so difficult to target as most in-person groups are closed,” Glenda explains.

Families who are just beginning to research the help they can get for their child with Autism should be aware that they can get help for free.

Foundational Family Services at the McMaster Children’s Hospital Autism Program are fully funded. These include parent education and training, as well as social groups for children and families.

“These are invaluable resources every family should take advantage of,” says Glenda.

Originally published in The Hamilton Spectator, April 1, 2021.