Xavier's Autism Treatment

Our hope for Xavier's future independence.

If we are not aggressive in giving him the best therapy, he will continue to grow not grasping the educational, social and communication skills needed to live independently.

                                         Xavier‘s Story
On July 7, 2008, my husband Rafael and I welcomed our beautiful twin boys to the world, Nathaniel, and Xavier.  Our daughter, Gabrielle, was an active 21-month old toddler who was excited about the addition of two playmates.  We were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, for the blessing of having 3 healthy children.  Life with three small children wasn’t easy, but we grew into our roles as parents of “three under two”, enjoyed spending time with them and marveled at the way they all developed.  Gabrielle hit her milestones as expected, with Nathaniel following a short time later.  We noticed that Xavier missed some milestones or reached them at a much later age than his twin brother.  Concerned with our observations, we made several appointments with a team of doctors.  Numerous evaluations and three and half years later, we sat in silence as a team of specialist diagnosed Xavier with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  The doctor informed us that Autism affects 1 in 68 children, with boys four times more likely affected than girls (Center for Disease Control, 2010).   “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors” www.autismspeaks.org. We sat in the doctor’s office motionless, as the feeling of devastation came over us.  While we observed early signs that Xavier wasn’t developing normally, hearing the words and grasping their meanings was overwhelming.  The life we had hoped for seemingly slipped away in an instant.

 At 3 years of age, Xavier did not play or engage with toys.  He did not play or interact with his siblings or other children his own age.  He had difficulty sleeping, speaking, crawling, and walking. These are things children of 18 months are able to do.  He could not convey his basic needs or wants.  If he wanted something to eat or drink, we would have to probe him for a few minutes to figure out what he is attempting to communicate. The probing process would include pointing to various food or drink items or attempting to use a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).   When questions were asked of Xavier, his response would be a blank stare or repeating/scripting what was said.  We had to constantly break down the questions or statements to 3-4 words and review them with him to ensure that he understood that a question was of asked of him, which in turn should elicit an appropriate response. An example of such communication would be,

                 Me: What is your name?

                Xavier’s response: What is your name.

 This process would cause Xavier to become frustrated and he would throw tantrums and/or get angered.   Our worrying began to intensify as we were uncertain what the future would hold for him.  Will he be able to work and support himself?  Will he be able to participate in family games, play sports, go out with friends and have social interactions?  Will he be able to date? Will he ever be a part of our world?  During the holidays, it has become a family tradition for the adults to play “Taboo” and have discussions about current events.  The children are usually running throughout the house or congregating among themselves.  I would often sit and observe our family dynamics and wonder if our son will ever be able to actively share in this experience.  Will he be able to tell us about his day or communicate if and how he was hurt?  He seemed to be locked and trapped inside his own little world, unable to connect to anyone or anything around him, and only very seldom were we allowed in.  We were unable to connect with our child and it was devastating.  Our son was living in a world where he could not adjust to the demands of his environment, respond appropriately to a simple question or process how to complete a simple task (i.e. putting his toys in a bin).  Each of these behavioral and developmental concerns drove us to seek therapy treatments to improve his overall well-being.

 In 2012, we were blessed when a friend recommended a specialized therapy center located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida called TheraPeeds.  This friend cited TheraPeedss reputation for excellent and intensive therapy services for children with disabilities.   At first, Rafael and I were very reluctant to explore this treatment option due to the time commitment away from home and work, the financial cost associated with the comprehensive therapy sessions, flights, hotel, car rental and the emotional burden that time away placed on our other two young children.  After much deliberation, and observing his development delay becoming more apparent, we decided to take on the emotional and financial costs associated with this program in order to help Xavier. Since making that decision, Xavier has attended three separate 3-week “intensives”.  These are weeks of concentrated cognitive, sensorimotor, speech, sound and behavioral therapy. TheraPeeds has significantly made a difference in Xavier’s life and have given Rafael and I hope for his future.  Our son was taught how to express his basic wants and needs.  In the past, this inability to express himself would usually result in tantrums.  We can still remember after two weeks of intensive therapy, at the age of four,  Xavier uttered his first 3-word sentence;

 Me: “Xavier, it is time for you to go to your bed.”

Xavier: “I’m not tired”

 Those three words brought tears to my eyes as I saw my child expressed himself properly and connected to me for the very first time. I will never forget this immensely emotional moment of hearing him communicate in a sentence.  From then we knew his treatment had to continue.  

After three weeks of intense therapy and a behavior management protocol, Xavier learned many other groundbreaking skills such as making eye contact, improved recovery time and frequency from a tantrum, improved play skills as well as appropriate turn-taking.  Xavier also began to respond to simple questions and give appropriate yes/no responses.  Previously an extremely picky eater, he became more willing to eat small portions of a variety of foods.  He now plays and interacts with other kids and no longer isolates himself to a corner.  We were delighted to see improvements within only three weeks!  We weren’t the only ones that noticed his improvements.  Our family members and his teachers all saw a difference and said that he was changing for the better. 

It has been three years since Xavier’s first intensive therapy at TheraPeeds.  At the time of his first intensive, Xavier was placed in a specialized early learning program for Autistic children for his Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten school years.  Many students in these settings have little to no communication skills.  After three intensives and consultative home programs, we are excited to report that Xavier has started to participate in the general education classroom setting, where he is interacting with typically developing students.  While he has made a great deal of improvements with the intensive programs offered at TheraPeeds,  at 6 years old, his overall ability to comprehend, express language and perform age-appropriate daily living and academic skills is equivalent to a 3-4 year old child.  Based on his previous success and gains at TheraPeeds, it was recommended that Xavier continue with further intensive treatment to maximize his potential in order for him to secure an independent future.

 Despite his diagnosis, we are heartened each day to see our son reach beyond his disorder and work on developing his independence.  Xavier’s best chance of getting quality therapy that will aid him in living a full and more independent life is to continue the recommended therapy provided at TheraPeeds.  If we are not aggressive in giving him the best therapy, he will not grasp the educational, social and communication skills needed to live independently.  Research shows effective early intervention therapy is critical for children on the autism spectrum and those with other developmental concerns to provide them with the best opportunities for achieving their potential.  As parents, we have devoted ourselves to use the tools learned at TheraPeeds at home as well. The educational lessons and strict gluten/casein free diet have become a way of life for us.  We are dedicated to doing everything possible for the development of our son.  Xavier will have many barriers to work through, but we will always be there for him.

 Unfortunately, medical insurance pays for very few treatments for autism; the unique therapy offered by TheraPeeds is not covered.  The cost is quite substantial and is becoming prohibitive to Rafael and me; Xavier’s 6-week intensive therapy session this summer will cost $20,000.  The love of our son is never ending and our consistency and dedication is his only chance of a fulfilling life.  In order to continue with our commitment to give Xavier the best chance possible, we are seeking the support of our family and friends to help alleviate some of the out of pocket financial expense of Xavier’s treatment.   We would be forever grateful for your contribution of ANY amount as an investment for our son’s future.

 Our family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts.  Our family will never stop trying and will never stop hoping.

With our deepest love and appreciation,

The Smith-McLeod Family

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Peta-Gaye Smith-McLeod 
Baltimore, MD
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