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Caden's journey through autism

November 02, 2011

Bonnie remembers that day five years ago like it was yesterday. Her son Caden was 18 months old. And it was the day his doctor first said that fateful word: autism.

Caden’s doctor told her that although it was too soon for a diagnosis, he was showing signs that were consistent with an autism spectrum disorder. She recommended that he get some blood tests as well. So Bonnie drove from the doctor’s office to the hospital, parked in the parking garage and pushed Caden in his stroller through the hospital. And she cried.

And for the following weekend, she and her husband continued to cry together. Bonnie says, “It was quite devastating. You just don’t think there’s going to be anything wrong with your kid. When you have a baby, you have all these dreams of what they’ll be. And then...wham! Everything’s changed.”

Now that Caden is 6 1/2 years old, the outlook is dramatically different. Caden now attends public school, and he is a happy, healthy little boy. He is sweet and friendly, and is especially compassionate towards other children with disabilities. And Bonnie attributes his many successes to one key thing: early intervention.

Although there was not a clear diagnosis at first, Caden’s parents and pediatrician became concerned when at 9 months of age, he began missing some of the developmental milestones for his age. He wasn’t crawling, wasn’t beginning to imitate speech sounds and didn’t respond to his name or make eye contact.

At 12 months old with no further progress, their pediatrician referred Caden to the Developmental Center for Infants and Children/ Early Steps, where he was evaluated and followed by a team of experts who specialize in care for children with developmental delays. They recommended that Caden receive specialized therapy right away. Rather than waiting for concrete answers that wouldn’t come for a year or more, they began to address the problems immediately.

Through individualized speech, occupational and physical therapies Caden has made exceptional progress. When he speaks, he is able to look a person in the eye as he converses. He has friends and interacts socially. He is learning to read and write. Things that may have seemed impossible five years ago are now possible for him.

Of course, there are still many challenges ahead. He continues to attend private therapy sessions four days a week along with those offered within the public school system. When he comes home each afternoon from therapy, Bonnie begins reinforcing those therapies with speech, sensory and motor exercises. He works hard to finish homework assignments that may take his peers a fraction of the time to complete. It is exhausting work; but he does it each and every day.

It seems, though, that Caden’s greatest asset may be a family that selflessly and tirelessly strives to provide him with every advantage. His parents are his advocates, his teachers and his cheerleaders. They have worked to educate themselves, network with other parents and become intricately involved in his school and therapies in order to determine exactly what he needs. Caden’s life is full of challenges, but he also has a family that has fought to give him the life he was meant to live.

So what will the future hold for Caden? Bonnie is setting her sights on college scholarships. For now, Caden dreams of becoming a weather man for Channel 9 News.

Seems like sunny skies are on the horizon.