Jessica Fredrickson spent an increasingly anxious year after her daughter Ava’s birth wondering why her little girl wasn’t hitting many of the typical developmental milestones. Ava’s cousin was born right around the same time as her in 2012, and the difference between the two children’s development was striking.
“She’d had kind of a difficult birth and was born with low tone, but the doctors weren’t too concerned,” recalls Jessica. “But I noted some milestones that were really late. She wasn’t making eye contact, for instance. It was pretty easy to compare her to my nephew and see the differences.”
The Kitimat family was on holidays in the Okanagan when they first heard mention that Ava might benefit from child development services. Ava was a year old at that point, and her mom had taken her to a clinic after Ava came down with the flu. The doctor who saw her recommended that she go for an assessment at the Kitimat Child Development Centre once the family returned home.
“So that’s what I did,” says Jessica. “Ava has now been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, global development delays and an unknown genetic condition, and started receiving autism services, physio, occupational therapy, and infant development support. For us, it was such a relief to see her getting the support she needed. When you’re waiting around for a diagnosis, you feel like you’re in limbo.”
While Jessica is grateful that Ava didn’t have to wait for many services, speech therapy was delayed several months during a period when the centre didn’t have a speech pathologist. Her family was grateful for support from B.C. Family Hearing Resource Society during that wait, and outreach from Vancouver’s Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.
Now that the centre has a speech pathologist again, Ava has as many as three therapy sessions a day of various types during the week.
“It’s pretty miraculous to see the huge difference it has made,” says Jessica. “When we go to Vancouver for tests, the specialists are always telling us the things that Ava might not do. But the child development centre emphasizes what Ava is doing. It’s very positive. They’re a parent-led service, and they have definitely been there for us.”
Ava is non-verbal, and the support of the centre’s behavioural interventionist has been crucial for helping her learn new ways to communicate with her parents, notes Jessica.
“Before, Ava couldn’t go to anyone’s house because of her behaviours, and our fears that she might get hurt,” says Jessica. “But the people at the child development centre sit down as a team and figure it out. They help make it happen.”
Ava is four now and beginning her second year of preschool at the centre, “and they’ve done a great job of setting up an environment for Ava,” says Jessica. Ava is learning valuable social skills during her time at preschool, including how to play with other children, how to take turns, how to share. “They’re giving her the tools to be able to be part of our world,” her mom adds.
The Fredrickson family recently brought in a behavioural specialist from Vancouver to spend four eight-hour days in the Fredrickson family home doing intensive potty training with Ava. Those sessions not only benefited Ava and her family, but ultimately built the capacity of CDC staff to be able to do that kind of training themselves with other children. After the family initiated contact with the Vancouver specialist, the centre got involved to help support the potty-training plan and meet the specialist.
“Ava is definitely capable of a lot,” adds Jessica, “but everything takes much longer for her to learn.”
Jessica and friend Megan Rothney have gone on to found the Kitimat Disability Resource Society, a small non-profit that matches community donations to purchase specialized equipment for children with disabilities. Ava doesn’t like walking in public places, but now has the use of an adaptive grocery cart that the resource society bought for her. (The society has also outfitted most of the restaurants in Kitimat with specially adapted high chairs for children with special needs. “Kitimat is a great place to live when you’re going through difficult times,” says Jessica.)
One of the most important insights Jessica gained from her experiences with Ava so far is that parents need to “trust their gut instinct.”
“You know when something isn’t typical for your child - even when your doctor, your friends and your family might be telling you to just wait it out,” she says. “I think sometimes you want to dismiss those gut feelings, but my advice is to exhaust every avenue. Now, Ava has the best support, and it’s helping her progress to the best she can be.”