Autism is a diagnosis that can be emotional for parents and families to accept. In our case, the diagnosis needed to be accepted by our family. Our daughter is amazing. She is incredibly bright, sweet, and an absolute joy to be around. As a parent, one of the most gut-wrenching things we experienced was being told time after time, “Your child has challenges, but no one knows why.” In May of 2013, we finally got our answer. Our beautiful girl has a rare genetic condition called Cohen Syndrome that causes intellectual, medical, and physical disabilities. Receiving this diagnosis was bittersweet because we finally got an answer, but we still didn’t know how to help our daughter. With a rare genetic condition like this, there are several programs, specialists, and therapies available that we didn’t even know existed. There are people with resources who wanted to help but had never heard of our child’s condition. It was very alarming for us because even though we were thankful for their help, the process can be anxiety-inducing.

When our daughter was diagnosed with Autism a year ago, it wasn’t a bittersweet moment like when we received her original diagnosis of Cohen Syndrome. It was just sweet! Autism Awareness has been raised, and there are people in the education and medical field who have experience with Autism. I fully accept that our daughter has Autism, but the fact is that a lot of her challenges stem from her primary diagnosis that is rare. I asked myself how this “known” diagnosis could help when you have to take her “unknown” diagnosis into account? The answer was ABA therapy.

Although we have seen AMAZING progress through ABA therapy in our daughter over the last year, the truth is that it cannot be contributed fully to “just” ABA therapy. ABA therapy with the right team is the answer. What makes the right team? Compassion, humility, resource-connected, knowledgeable, and experienced team members. ABA is an evidence-based practice.

We know firsthand that having a team that is compassionate and humble will allow for success. Having a child with complex healthcare needs is overwhelming. We almost always feel like we aren’t doing enough (are we acting more like advocates instead of just being mom and dad? Is our child receiving the right therapies, too many or not enough? How can we balance comfortability for a child whose world is almost always uncomfortable, but also push her to reach her full potential?). Adding ABA therapy to our already crammed schedule brought apprehension. But having the right team, takes the stress out of the equation. We (parents, child and staff) work together on proper goals and time management.

ABA is an excellent tool that I highly recommend families consider, but it’s not the only tool. Especially when working with a child who has a rare genetic condition plus an Autism diagnosis. Other resources and tools may assist families in achieving their goals. For us this meant learning about the objectives as a family together while our daughter was mastering goals. ABA works best when it’s combined with your other resources; (i.e., current therapies in place, IEP teams, community support, etc.) as this helps generalize what is learned. We have seen our daughter transfer the skills she’s learned in her sessions into her everyday life. Our daughter, recently turned eight years old, received a skilled companion dog, and is transitioning to a general education classroom. This transition and the skills that her amazing ABA team teach her have been a blessing to her, and our family. Our daughter has been showing more affection to those she cares about. She’s able to master her goals outside of her sessions and into the community (which I am unable to express how HUGE this is). She is also able to complete her homework with modifications; additionally, she can share who she is with others instead of allowing her diagnoses to define her as others think it does.

From a logical perspective, ABA therapy is remarkable in how it allows children (no matter what the diagnosis is) to learn things that other children may more readily know. From a mom’s perspective, it’s beyond amazing. This process has provided my husband and me with the support needed so we can be her parents, instead of her providers. Partnering in this way gives us opportunities we wouldn’t be able to have without this kind of assistance. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In the early days of our daughter’s life, my husband and I would jokingly say it takes a hospital to raise our child. As her health has become more stable, and we’ve been able to focus more on her education and life skills, we agree that in fact, it takes a village to raise a child — a properly equipped village. And we are so grateful that God blessed us with her ABA team as an addition to our village.

– by Nicole