When the Chason family brought their son Ben to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at Kennedy Krieger, it was with good reason. Their daughter Addie had been diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (an autism spectrum disorder) at 24 months, and, thanks in part to research performed at CARD, it’s widely known that the siblings of children on the autism spectrum face a higher risk themselves. Nearly 20 percent of the younger siblings of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will also have the disorder.
The Chasons had trusted the professionals at Kennedy Krieger before, first with Addie and then with their second daughter Cassie, who participated in the center’s Early Detection study—a research program overseen by CARD director Rebecca Landa, PhD, and designed to evaluate the siblings of children with autism for any high-risk signs or behaviors. Through CARD’s Immersion Training, the program also welcomes regional educators who hope to learn about CARD’s interventions and therapies and share them with special education programs within their own school districts.
Unlike her sister, Cassie never demonstrated any symptoms of ASD. Addie, meanwhile, had thrived in the center’s Early Achievements program, a federally funded research study led by Landa, which was designed to test whether early interventions for children with ASD could lead to improved social, language, and other skills. The program, which works with children as young as 2 years in a nursery school setting, also provides education and training for parents, so they can learn how to optimize their children’s development at home.
Those skills would come in handy when Ben came along. Like Cassie, they enrolled him in Landa’s Early Detection study, just to be safe. But this time, the Chasons’ infant son—then 6 months old—demonstrated a sign Landa has come to frequently associate with a risk for ASD: When CARD director and researcher Rebecca pulled him into a sitting position, his head lolled backward. After the family’s experience with Addie, that was the only red flag Teri and Todd Chason needed.
“When he came back in again just after his first birthday,” Landa says, “we were even more concerned. He was seriously showing signs of ASD.” By then, Landa had another study starting, a groundbreaking intervention study called “Little Learners,” for one year-olds showing signs of ASD. At the time, the idea of applying ASD interventions in children at such a young age was novel. Even so, the Chasons immediately enrolled Ben in the study as well as in a local infant and toddlers program.
“Ben had a fantastic response to the treatment,” Landa says. “He developed the ability to engage with people and toys in a meaningful way, and that launched his ability to learn in a whole new way.”
Today, Teri Chason says, not only is Addie continuing to excel in her third grade class, but Ben—who they sometimes affectionately call Benno—is doing outstanding. “His prognosis is excellent,” she says. “He’s doing fabulously, talking in full sentences, making eye contact, engaging in socialization. He’s just 100 percent, terrible twos, in-your-face wonderful.”
The Chason family attributes much of that success to CARD. “We are always shouting from the rooftops about how great Kennedy Krieger is,” Teri says. “I don’t know where we would be if we hadn’t found CARD.”