Last month we celebrated as our friend Odie graduated from ABA therapy and began attending kindergarten in his home town! Odie was receiving speech, occupational and ABA therapy with Easterseals Central Illinois for 3 years. His parents sat down with Molly Hogeboom, Easterseals Community Engagement Manager, to discuss this milestone, their journey and their hopes for the future.
Tell me a little about Odie? What are some of his favorite things right now?
- JP – Oh Gosh, probably still his Hot Wheels cars and little action figures, any of the little surprise boxes and things he gets to open up like that, and his iPad, his games, videos games, always wanting to play on that stuff too.
- Shera – I would add running and playing outside, being on his trampoline, anything outdoors I think Odie loves.
Is there anything special you love about his personality? His little character?
- Shera – Just how sweet he is. And he can be a stinker, but I love it
What brought you guys to Easterseals?
JP – Originally, we were looking for somewhere that could help Odie more than what it seemed like he was getting with preschool. We tried that out, and Easterseals was the nearest place that offered those services for where we are; we are here in Galesburg. You guys were able to get us in. I don’t know if it was really that much faster than anywhere else, but then once we were there, we were just really happy with the work that everyone was doing with him there, the progress he was making, and so once we saw all of that that was going on with his therapist, with the therapy, we just wanted to continue on with Easterseals.
What is Odie’s diagnosis?
- Shera – Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia, and Sensory Processing Disorder
What services did or does Odie receive from Easterseals?
- Shera – He received ABA up until recently. He was receiving OT and speech, and he may continue with speech there.
What types of progress or milestones did you see come through during your time at Easterseals?
- JP – Definitely, his communication improved a ton over the last three years because when we first came, he could say ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Nono,’ ‘Bapa.’ Really that was about it like two consonant sound words and only a handful of things. Now he tries to repeat back anything and everything. It still might not be the most understandable to most people, but for us, being around him, we can almost always tell what it is that he is trying to say. It’s not just single words. He is trying to say complete sentences, so that’s been huge. Initially, we wondered if we were ever going to see an improvement in his communication like that.
I remember one time that you told me that you had experienced some great progress in being able to go out to eat?
- Shera – Yeah, that was a huge thing for our whole family at one time. Going out to eat was just something we didn’t do. I mean, we just got used to that, being home. Now Odie will go and sit, he won’t sit the whole time, but I think that’s any kid. That was a huge milestone for us because it was something that was kind of taken away from our family for a short time.
- JP – Yeah, we didn’t really go anywhere or try to take him anywhere. Even to the store just to pick up one thing, ‘oh need to grab some milk’ and run back out, even something as simple as that was a huge feat in itself to accomplish.
And now you would say you are able to do that more often than you used to be?
- Shera – Oh yeah, for sure.
- JP – Throw him in the shopping cart, and he goes for a ride until he’s ready to get down and look at toys. Then it’s trying to get him roped back in and whatnot. Being able to go out and actually do things and not be restricted or worrying about ‘oh when am I gonna have some help so I can actually run my errands I need to get done’ it’s been great.
What happened here at Easterseals a few weeks ago?
- Shera – He graduated from ABA; it was a bittersweet day, I think, for his dad and me. I don’t think Odie quite understood what was going on. It was so awesome to have accomplished that after what we have put into the last, over three years. It was awesome to see how far he’s come and to move on to the next chapter.
- JP – And to see everyone celebrating him like that and how excited he was to run down the line and give everyone high-fives, like ‘I don’t know what I’m so excited about with everybody here, but it’s really cool, are you all here for me?’
- Shera – I think I sat in the parking lot for a long time and cried just because it was such a; it was something I wasn’t sure if we were going to get to this soon for him and see him move on to kindergarten. So that was such a big moment, I think, for all of us.
And I’m assuming with the graduation of ABA; it’s because Odie was meeting specific goals that they set for him, so he could move onto kindergarten, right?
- Shera – Yeah, he’s where he needs to be cognitively. The only place we’re not where we are is his communication, but that wasn’t a reason for him to stay in ABA, so yeah, he was where he needed to be.
You guys traveled from Galesburg to our Peoria center and used our lobby while Odie was in therapy. What does it mean to parents to have a functional and welcoming lobby at Easterseals?
- Shera – We traveled, 50 minutes there, 50 minutes home, and we obviously stayed since we were that far away. We were usually in our car unless we were making target trips or running errands. When they did put the Keurig in the lobby, that was so big for us. There were mornings I didn’t have time to make coffee because I was so busy with Odie, and we were getting out the door. So to be able to go in and sit and be comfortable and not have to be in my car and have some coffee was really huge. I think it would be for any family.
- JP – And then not even having to think, ‘okay, so I got an hour, I’m going to run to McDonald’s real fast so that I can grab a coffee’ and then come back and wait for him to get out. It was nice. It was comfortable, instead of sitting in the car all the time and just having somewhere to be. The wifi in the lobby made a huge difference. The cell phone service wasn’t always the greatest down there in the parking lot, so having the wifi inside was huge. All those little amenities, the little things, they add up.
What does Easterseals mean to your family?
Shera – I think Easterseals has been life-changing for us. Odie was not social, unable to really communicate at all. We could finally start doing things as a family. I think it was definitely life-changing. I’m not sure where we would be today without Easterseals.
- JP – Yeah, the way that they’ve helped him to be more self-aware and be able to monitor and handle his inhibitive behaviors. Like the repetitive things that caused us problems in the beginning. Instead of playing with toys, it was always lining up toys which was one of those really common things. They just worked on all those little things, a little bit at a time to help him overcome all these different issues, which helped him function a little bit more normally.
- Shera – And they were able to give us strategies, you know, as parents to Odie. Strategies to work on daily, which was a really big deal. Kaitlyn, his BCBA, was amazing. She was so great at tracking everything, keeping in touch with us, texting us. When we were uneasy about the day, I felt like I could text her and check in on him. It’s definitely been a life-changer.
- JP – Even when we transitioned into the school, all of the information that they had that they passed along to the school district, one of the school therapists was like, ‘I don’t really need to do an evaluation, because I have such detailed and good information that came out of Easterseals.’ They said, ‘we have a really good idea of Odie and his needs and the things that help him,’ and so just knowing that the therapists there put in all that work and did all of that amazing stuff to help him and how it’s helping him now too.
- Shera – Yeah, they were always so on top of everything and beyond.
Do you feel like Easterseals was an extension of your family?
- Shera – Oh, absolutely.
- JP – There would be people that we would run into or talk to or meet, and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we know Odie! He comes by and visits me in my office when he does his walks’ and things like that and so people who we have no idea who they were, what they did there, anything like that in completely different offices and parts of the building, they knew Odie. So he was definitely well known there by everyone.
Would you guys say you ‘never felt alone’ when you were connected with Easterseals?
JP – That’s tough. Having a child with special needs can be very isolating. Yes, we had the help with Easterseals, but they were only there for us while he was there.
Shera –I felt like I could message his therapist in the evening or on the weekends, and she would be very quick to respond, so I would say I didn’t really feel alone when I could reach out to her
- JP –We were always welcomed. Everybody was always so friendly. As Shera said, our therapist was always responding very quickly to any kind of questions or concerns that we had. She was amazing. I guess I was just speaking more along the lines of just life with a special needs child and how we talked about earlier, with not being able to go out for dinner and things like that. Those kinds of times are when it was isolating.
What do you hope for Odie in the future?
- Shera – My hopes are for his speech to develop more, his communication, I think that’s number one. I hope that he will be a little more leveled and less anxious, especially right now, during transitions. I think seeing him happy and thrive in normal, daily life as he gets older is my biggest thing.
- JP – Yeah, absolutely, the communication, continuing to improve on that, and just living the best life he can in the future, as independently as he can in the future for himself.
What do you want to tell Odie? If Odie was here, what would you say to him?
- JP – Keep going, buddy.
- Shera – I would tell him that he’s bright and amazing and that he’s got this no matter what. I think it is my biggest thing. No matter what anyone says, he’s got this.
- Shera- One of my biggest fears is that he won’t be treated equally, especially with him going into public school. I think that’s probably what I would say to Odie, reassure him of how great he is. And yeah, life’s tough, and it’s going to be tough, but he has a great family, great parents that are going to get him through it. And I would just want him to know that he has that support always from everyone.
Is there anything else you want to add?
- Shera – I think I just want to praise Easterseals because before, it most definitely changed my life, and it most importantly changed Odie’s and he’s thriving, and we are where we are because of you guys, and you know, I’m so thankful for that, I think our whole family is.
- JP – We’re thankful for everything Easterseals did for Odie and for us to help improve his life and our lives. Because we really wouldn’t be here, where we are right now, if we wouldn’t have had all the therapy and all the support over the years. And seeing the improvements, you know we always tried to do everything that we could, but we’re not therapists, we don’t have the experience they have, we don’t have all the knowledge to help him in the ways that he needed was beyond our means. We are so very thankful for everything they helped him accomplish and for helping him get to where he is today.
Learn more about Easterseals Central Illinois services by visiting eastersealsci.com