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A Family’s Journey

On August 12, 2003 my husband Nathan and I welcomed our first child, William, into the world. Filled with joy and excitement, we could hardly wait to see what the future had in store for us and our new son.  Little did we know that in six months we would begin seeing “red flags” in William’s development. At the young age of fifteen months our son would be diagnosed as having autism. Eleven years later we are now the proud parents of four children.

Autism affects William and our family in many ways.  William is challenged most by his inability to speak. As with many children on the autism spectrum, tantrums and aggressive behavior are also difficulties for William and our family.  Thankfully, William is usually a happy and loving child, and enjoys activities like swimming, playing outside and going to school.

William attends Woody’s Song School, a program of The Learning Tree. The Learning Tree offers children with developmental disabilities intensive and individualized educational programs through their residential schools in Jacksonville, Mobile and Tallassee, preschools in Auburn, Mobile and Anniston, as well as Woody’s Song School in Mobile. William has made significant progress since he began attending Woody’s Song, including learning to use an iPad “talker” to help him communicate.  With some prompting, William is now able to communicate basic wants and needs with his “talker.” Recently he surprised us when we passed by a familiar pool and, unprompted, he told us he wanted to go swimming! With William we celebrate the smallest of achievements because they take a lot of work for him to accomplish. Seeing William acquire critical skills makes our family very proud and gives us great hope for his future.  It also makes us grateful for the work of The Learning Tree and the amazing staff at Woody’s Song School.

We owe so much to The Learning Tree, and we are not alone.  Each Learning Tree family has their own unique story of their child’s journey with autism.  The Learning Tree is dedicated to helping families face the challenges of autism and other developmental disabilities, but they cannot do it alone.  Nathan and I have made a commitment to raise $100,000 for The Learning Tree.  We recognize that our goal is a challenge, but if we as parents of a child living with this mysterious and often extremely challenging condition are not willing to put ourselves out there and commit to make a difference, who will?

We ask you to please show your support for The Learning Tree by making your own donation to the program.  If you have donated recently, THANK YOU for your support. If you have not made a donation, please consider the 400 children and families from across our state who benefit from the services of The Learning Tree.  It is only with your help that the program can continue to serve them. Please make your donation today to give children like William the opportunity to become all that they can be!

You Are Not Alone

In the beginning, there were so many things that did not add up in the development of our son Tyler. Which came first, the physiological or neurological issues, we don’t know. He had a smile that lit up a room, yet at 12 months old he was exhibiting some comprehension but not saying any words. At age 18 months, he only spoke a handful of words and though he could hear us, he was not responding. He seemed to be in his own little world.

By two, his language slowly improved. At age 2 ó we started early intervention services that revealed issues with motor and cognitive skills. Just shy of Tyler’s 3rd birthday, a psychologist confirmed he had some minor cognitive, speech, and motor delays, as well as yes, characteristics of … autism. Though it was hard to accept that diagnosis, we believed that Tyler would “eventually learn to compensate and lose the diagnosis,” as the psychologist had suggested.

After countless hours of doctor appointments and various therapies, two and a half years later, at age 5 ó, Tyler was making limited progress. We began to question our hopes of losing the diagnosis of “autism” by school age but remained hopeful. As age 6 approached, Tyler’s progress came to a quick halt. He began to unlearn the skills we had worked so hard to teach. He began to stutter, and his words were fewer. His facial expressions went completely flat. The child we knew was gone.

There was little improvement for almost four years. Then halfway through the 3rd grade, Tyler’s behaviors at school became worse. I learned about The Learning Tree at church and asked our special education coordinator if we could call them in to help. Following several meetings and much deliberation, we all agreed that Tyler should attend The Learning Tree as a day student. Their program would provide the most educationally appropriate services for Tyler. On Monday, May 25th, 2009, Tyler started school at The Learning Tree in Tallassee.

We will probably never know what caused Tyler to regress and be considered severe on the autism spectrum. What we do know is that he is learning new skills again with the professional help of the staff at The Learning Tree. For the past 6 years, Tyler has received the intense behavioral intervention he needed to enjoy school again.

There were many tearful nights in the past worrying about how our family was going to manage Tyler’s behavior at school and at home. The tearful nights of worry turned into tears of joy since being blessed with the professional help we needed for Tyler and our family and knowing that we are not alone.

Renewing Hope

Justin was progressing typically, meeting all of his milestones, with no hint of what was to come. After his first birthday, he began to lose his words and stopped waving hello and saying “bye-bye.” We began searching for help, staying on the Internet until late into the night. We were consumed with getting our baby boy the help he needed. Just before his 3rd birthday, Justin was diagnosed with autism. He had already lost most of the words he had learned but was starting to learn to sign through the help of early intervention services.

Then, we learned about The Little Tree Preschool in Anniston. We enrolled him
immediately. After just a week of preschool services, we noticed improvements. He became more attentive and began to attempt new words and signs. Justin continued to progress more and more each day when, after a couple of months, he brought us to tears when he said “mommy” again. Today Justin has learned many, many new words and no longer needs to sign to communicate. What we experienced at The Little Tree Preschool was beyond our hopes.

Supporting Rare

Claira was diagnosed with a rare disease that presents with significant behavioral challenges outside of her control, and a severe intellectual disability. At age four she began receiving services through the Little Tree Preschool. The program provided her with the ability to operate a communication device for use in her daily life.

She graduated from the program at age six with the skills she needed to attend kindergarten in a public-school in special education classes. We chose the Outreach Program to continue applied behavior analysis services in the public-school classroom. With age and the fast-paced progression of her disease, she now participates in the Residential School Program.

It was a tough decision to move her into the residential program, but we knew The Learning Tree would provide her with the best care. We can attest to the high demand for behavioral services in Alabama and the lack of available options for children with significant behavioral challenges. The Learning Tree offered us guidance and exceptional staff support in making decisions about our daughter’s care throughout our journey.