Eight months in the life of an adult passes in the blink of an eye. But that same period for a little boy whose family knows all too well that time is running out for receiving Early Childhood Development services – well, that’s a very long time.
Born in 2011 to a Kelowna family with two other children, little Yvan (not his real name) came into the world looking and acting very much like any other infant. His mother had been a late talker herself and the bilingual family was aware that boys often start speaking later, so nobody worried when Yvan still wasn’t speaking much at age two and a half.
But when his mom started taking him to the Strong Start Centre at age three, she started noticing some peculiar behaviours.
Whenever she accompanied Yvan, he insisted on sitting alone in a particular corner, where he had access to two of his most favorite toys. Out of hundreds and hundreds of toys, the boy was only interested in one green car, and a tiny police car with lights on it. He would quietly lay on the floor and play with the cars, but threw tantrums and reacted aggressively if any other child tried to take his toys. His mom discussed the problem with the facilitator at Strong Start, but the word “autism” never came up in their conversations. The family presumed Yvan was just going through a stage.
By the time he was closing in on his fourth birthday, however, the family was growing seriously concerned. Yvan didn't respond well to questions, nor did he initiate conversation very often. His speech was often difficult to understand. His mother started doing her own investigations, and found herself wondering if he had autism.
“It was the first time in my life that I read about autism,” she recalls. “I read numerous articles that made me feel 100 percent sure that he was autistic. So, one fine morning I walked into a clinic and told the doctor straight that my son had all the signs of autism and that I wanted a referral to a pediatrician.”
The doctor tested Yvan by asking him questions, none of which he could answer. He then sent the family to have Yvan’s hearing checked, although two months went by before Yvan could get an appointment. “I thought I would get an appointment booked the next day,” says his mom, “but sadly, things went pretty slow.”
Yvan’s hearing turned out to be perfect, but the session with the audiologist turned out to be a breakthrough for the family. The audiologist referred Yvan to Starbright Child Development Centre. “We are so grateful she understood that things were already getting too late. We didn't want to waste more months waiting for an appointment with a pediatrician,” says the boy’s mom.
But unfortunately, the waits for services continued. A month after the referral, Yvan’s mother called Starbright to ask when they’d be able to see her son. They told her the wait lists were long, but it shouldn’t be much longer.
She received the intake forms just before Christmas 2015 and quickly filled them in to send them back to the centre. “But again there was no response, except to say that they had received the filled forms,” she says.
Finally, Yvan was booked for his first appointment at Starbright in February 2016. The speech therapist there told the family that the boy showed many of the signs for autism. His assessment showed minimal eye contact, restricted play and interests, rigidity, and delays in receptive, expressive, and social language.
Due to the long waiting lists, Yvan could only get four sessions with the speech therapist and a handful with the occupational therapist, but the family saw an improvement even with that small amount of therapy. Equipped with a list of home strategies suggested by Starbright therapists, the family began putting them into practice and saw improvements due to those efforts as well.
It wouldn’t be until May 2016 – just seven months before Yvan was to turn five and age out of Early Childhood Development services – that the family heard about the Hanen program “More than Words,” designed for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and social difficulties. Yvan’s mom immediately signed up for the series of six three-hour classes.
“It was an amazing program, conducted by Kraig Rust, a Hanen-certified Speech & Language Pathologist,” says the mom. “The program greatly helped me get equipped with amazing strategies and tips. Everything about this program - whether it be the class sessions, videotape visits, questionnaires, discussions, or feedback from the therapist and other parents - was useful beyond words!”
Family life has improved dramatically since then. Yvan’s communication and play skills have greatly improved, and he is less frustrated and more flexible when other children want to become part of his play. He has begun speaking in complete sentences.
His mother remains grateful for that fated visit to the audiologist with her son, because the family would still be waiting for that referral to Starbright had they had to wait to see a pediatrician. Yvan wasn’t seen by a pediatrician until May 2016, and wasn’t assessed until August.
His assessment confirmed that he has Autism Spectrum Disorder and moderate intellectual disability, and that his speech and language levels are comparable to those of a two-year-old. The family is now on the wait list for more interventions, though time is running out to receive the supports specifically for children ages birth to five.
“Had I waited for that assessment, I wouldn't have been able to get the services at Starbright, as my son turns 5 in November,” notes his mother.
“I am grateful from the core of my heart to Starbright and God that my son received the services, and that I got to attend 'More than Words.’ However, I still wish my son could have had appointments sooner and with more frequency, because things would have improved for him a lot more.”