Thriving with Autism

Matthew, 11, has been coming to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders  (CARD) at Kennedy Krieger with his family since he was 2 years old. If not for the expertise, compassion, and understanding of the autism specialists at CARD, Matthew’s mother, Marlo, can’t imagine where they would be today.

When Matthew was a toddler, he didn’t understand how to play, how to communicate his needs, or what others were trying to communicate to him. “He had no interest in interacting or playing with toys at all,” recalls Marlo. “He would look out the window, not engaging with anyone or anything in the room.”

He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Marlo enrolled him in the Early Achievements Program at CARD, a comprehensive early intervention program for toddlers that targets the core deficits of autism: communication, social interaction, and behavior regulation.

Early childhood experiences are vitally important to the developing brain in a child with ASD, says Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of CARD. “The brain develops itself based on the nature of experiences that a child is having,” she explains. “To a child with autism, the signals that others are sending you—through eyes, speech, gestures—are meaningless. It’s like being in a foreign land. When that happens, the child is not able to engage and elicit the learning opportunities that are so critical for brain development.”

Early intervention, like the kind Matthew received, is designed to address development at the point where it’s going off track. Specialists worked with Matthew on communication, social skills, and appropriate play.

At the same time, Marlo received parent training—everything from how to be an advocate for her son, to working with the school system, knowing what questions to ask doctors, and how to work with Matthew on skills at home.

Today, Matthew walks with a smile, loves hugs, and has a wonderful relationship with his siblings, says his mother. And he can communicate all his needs through a communication device. “We really saw him blossom at Kennedy Krieger.”

He thrives on structure and routine, but is just as comfortable playing chase with his twin brother and younger sister.

“Matthew dispels so many of the myths of children on the spectrum,” says Lemon, noting that her son is “the happiest nonverbal child I know.”

Of the future, Marlo says their hopes and dreams for Matthew are to see him thrive independently and to continue to learn and grow with the foundation that Kennedy Krieger set for him.