Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic Helps Mother through Son’s Journey—“He’s Back”

When he was six months old, Jack Bial was a happy, friendly infant – “such a character,” remembers his mother, Lisa. But as the months went on, Jack became more and more withdrawn. At 15 months, he wasn’t talking.

“Come back in a month with three words,” the nurse practitioner told them at Jack’s well-baby check-up. A month later, still no words. Jack was referred for Early Intervention services. At the same time, Lisa and her husband Scott were referred to a pediatric neurologist who noted Jack’s lack of eye contact and recommended that he be evaluated for an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

He gave Lisa and Scott the names of several places where they could get an assessment and evaluation. One was the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic in Randolph, Mass., a program of May Institute and the National Autism Center.

The Bials checked out the websites of the recommended organizations and agencies and were most impressed with the Institute’s site. “I thought that if this is the road we’re heading down, this [May Institute] is the place we need to be,” says Lisa.

She called the ASD Clinic and requested that Jack be seen for a behavioral assessment. Within a few weeks the Bials had met with the Clinic Director; by July of 2007 Jack had been evaluated. Shortly thereafter, the Bials’ daughter Julia was born. Her arrival delayed their next visit to the Clinic until September. It was at that meeting that Lisa and Scott learned that Jack met the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder.

“Receiving that news was like being told that the child you thought you knew no longer existed,” Lisa recalls. “It was as if the whole time we’d known him he was someone else, and we were being introduced to him that day for the first time. We were very frightened, we didn’t know what to expect for him for the long term. Were we talking institutionalization?

“It’s awful when you get that diagnosis,” she continues. “You grieve the loss of the child you thought you had. You don’t know what’s going to happen. As time goes by, you see how your child’s peers are taking off and you wonder, ‘What’s going to happen to my child? Who’s going to take care of him?’”

But Lisa and Scott were comforted by the fact that Jack’s cognitive testing was in the normal range. The Clinic Director assured them that with timely, effective therapy, Jack would have a bright future.

“She recommended 20 hours a week of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy in addition to the speech and occupational therapy he was receiving,” says Lisa. “She said we had to ‘bombard him with ABA.’ We hoped that May Institute had therapists who would come to our area because, in our opinion, May Institute was the best.”

To their relief, May Institute did provide in-home ABA services in their area.

“The home-based crew from May Institute present themselves so well,” says Lisa. “They are so professional, structured, and organized. And the ABA therapy they provide is so scientific, so data-driven. The minute our first therapist walked in the door, I knew this was going to work. ‘These are the people we need,’ I thought.”

After two to three months of intensive ABA therapy, Jack was starting to say one or two words. “Now he talks all the time,” says Lisa.

Jack received in-home ABA therapy until he turned 3. Since then, he has been attending an integrated preschool program in the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School district. He started out in the “intensive” room; then graduated to a totally “integrated” with his typically developing peers.

“His language is not quite up to the 4-year-old level, but it’s good,” says Lisa. “He also needs to work on social interactions and taking turns, but he has developed good imitation skills and has some skills that are just light years beyond his peers.”

Once a year the Bials take Jack to the ASD Clinic to be revaluated. As was the case during their first feedback session, Clinic personnel continue to recommend ABA, speech, and occupational therapy, and regular “play dates” for Jack.

“So many people at school really seem to enjoy Jack,” says Lisa. “He’s entertaining, he’s bright, and now he’s very verbal. He loves mechanical things; he makes sophisticated connections between concepts. And it’s amazing how compassionate he is. He’s delightful – just like he was when he was an infant. He’s back.”

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Lisa and Jack