September 26, 2013
Marcus was diagnosed with autism two months before his third birthday. There were signs that something was not quite right since he was a baby, but he was our first child and we didn’t know any better. At age one, Marcus had a few words and ate everything we gave him. But by the time he was two, he had no words and only ate a few foods.
At first, we thought the lack of language was caused by being in a bilingual home. His father is from Brazil and was speaking in Portuguese to him. At 15 months, we visited Brazil and Marcus was a different child. He spoke a few words to people in Portuguese and seemed more tuned in to us and those around him. These things had never happened in the United States, and unfortunately were gone again when we returned from Brazil. From 12-24 months, we also noticed that Marcus did not play with toys in a normal way, and he started to become extremely aggressive with changes or when he did not get his way. Finally, his pediatrician thought he should get a speech evaluation. From that evaluation, it was determined more testing needed to be done. In the end, it was determined that he had autism.
In the first two years of our autism journey, we were searching through all the therapies and studies, just trying to figure out what would be best for our son. He started the developmental preschool in our school district while we tried to find ABA, occupational and speech therapy providers. We also debated doing biomedical treatment, but decided to wait. During this time, Marcus made little improvement and his aggressive and destructive behaviors only got worse. The therapists would often leave our house with their clothes ripped, hair a mess from him pulling it, and bruises from bites, hits or kicks. My arms would also be full of bruises. The only therapist who could work with Marcus was his occupational therapist, but his progress was very slow. Marcus would also smear his dirty diaper all over his room. Life felt hopeless and we didn’t know how to deal with these behaviors.
At five years old, Marcus became a part of a study done by the state of Arizona to determine the effectiveness of 40 hours a week of ABA therapy. He did this therapy along with weekly speech and occupational therapies. After the first year of the in-home ABA therapy, there was very little change. Marcus was still aggressive and destructive, and he didn’t want to learn. He hated all therapies and was very difficult to work with. He showed how smart he was by using aggressive behaviors to avoid work. He had an excellent sense of time and would stop his behaviors and work with the therapist for the last 10 to 15 minutes of a session, knowing that they would leave after he worked with them a little bit. Thankfully, the one behavior that had stopped with the help of the ABA therapy was the smearing of his diaper. The ABA provider suggested we look into biomedical treatment for him. They said some children needed this treatment before the other therapies could be effective for the child.
Around this time, we moved to a Hawaii and decided it was the perfect time to try the GFCF diet. While the behaviors didn’t completely go away, we noticed that Marcus had better self-control and was less aggressive when on the diet. He also seemed to pay attention more. Within the first two years of our move, I also got involved with TACA. In 2010, I received a grant from TACA and Hawaii Family Foundation to see a DAN doctor [now MAPS]. Dr. John Green has been an answer to our prayers. Through the treatments that Dr. Green has provided, Marcus has made huge improvements. We also started a Verbal Behavior approach to ABA instead of the previous Lovaas model. This has also made a big impact. Now, my formerly non-verbal son speaks. He has severe apraxia, so articulation is a problem, but he is able to sit and work with a speech pathologist instead of hitting, biting or displaying other aggressive behavior. The speech pathologist has also commented on improvements with speech with the different supplements and medicines that Dr. Green has prescribed for Marcus.
Marcus has a long way to recovery, but he is a different child since starting the biomedical treatment and other therapies. We have no more aggressive behaviors. He isn’t always happy with a change in routine or not getting his way, but now his response is easier to handle and he is not aggressive. Often, Marcus is the best behaved and easiest to deal with of my three children. He can play with his younger sisters and interacts with them in a typical brother/sister relationship. Most of the time, people do not realize he has autism. He plays and interacts with other children. He can explain why he doesn’t want to do something. He will tell me he is scared or if he doesn’t want to talk. Even though there are times he doesn’t want to talk, this is changing and he will try to talk with others.
We recently moved back to Arizona and all our old friends comment on how well Marcus is doing and how happy he is. They say he is a completely different child. While he has not recovered, I don’t have enough space to list all his improvements. His father and I used to be scared that Marcus would have to be institutionalized because of how severe his aggressive behaviors were. This is not even a thought anymore. Now, we are focused on his education, helping him to learn and improve his articulation. Words cannot express our grateful we are to TACA for their help – it’s been an answer to our prayers.