One evening in early 2017, the Higgins family ordered Chinese food for dinner. As Cherie, the mom, opened her fortune cookie, she saw the message, “You will soon be traveling southward and learn great things.”
It was a sign, she thought.
“I remember telling my husband it meant that we were going to get into the SARRC program,” she recalls.
And she was right—within a few days, the Higgins family, who had relocated to Arizona from Florida in an effort to find help and services for their two young boys, received the call that two spots had opened in the coveted JumpStart program. This meant that not only did they get into the program, but that both of her twin then-5-year-old boys could participate.
What is JumpStart?
JumpStart, a unique program offered through Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), provides state-of-the-art information, support, and training for parents of children up to age 6 who have recently been diagnosed with or are at risk for ASD. Skilled clinicians also provide hands-on training of evidenced-based interventions to the participating families, and information about the characteristics of ASD, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and how to begin improving communication, reducing problem behaviors, accessing state services, and coordinating with service providers is also provided as part of JumpStart.
“It was one of the services listed in the material we were given, and I believe there were speakers who shared their stories about various programs at SARRC,” Cherie says, who explains that after the boys, Hunter and Brady, were diagnosed, the family spent two years fruitlessly trying to find services before deciding to move to a state that offered better resources. “Since our twins never really received early intervention before, it was at the top of our list of things we wanted to do. We needed help navigating the system and available state services, as well.”
The popular program typically has a waiting list, and since the twins were only a few months away from their 6th birthday at the time, Cherie and her husband were nervous that spots wouldn’t become available before their birthdays, since age 6 was the cutoff for participation.
“We saved the fortune cookie paper. It’s posted on the bulletin board in our office!” she says.
An Adventure in Learning
The family had heard great things about the program, so had high expectations.
“Going in, we expected to learn a lot. Everyone we had talked to said that SARRC training was the best, so naturally we were expecting big things. And I don’t even know how it could be possible, but as much as we were expecting, the program delivered 1,000 times above and beyond what we thought it would be.
“We learned so much! We learned about everything from the different types of ABA therapies to state services to how to advocate for our children in schools, and even how to communicate with our non-verbal twins. It was incredible how much information could be packed into what really was a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. We absolutely loved it, everything about it. And the kids loved it, too. …JumpStart was amazing.”
Cherie says that her biggest takeaway was knowledge is power.
“Hearing what was available to the boys—at home, at school, and even possibly for them to find employment or their own housing some day—and then hearing how to attain those things, helped us to believe that it will be possible to achieve the goals that we want to achieve as a family.”
Cherie admits that she and her husband felt helpless prior to the program, not knowing what kind of life the boys could have.
“I think for me, it was like running into a wall over and over again – you keep pushing and pushing but you don’t get anywhere. That’s what it felt like. Now it feels like if we run into a wall, or if we see a wall up ahead, we have ways to go around it. Or we can anticipate what’s coming and plan for it. Maybe we can jump over the wall, or maybe we can even blast a hole right through it. But now we know that the wall won’t stop us. That’s what SARRC did for us. We now have the confidence and the power to tackle the obstacles and not be afraid.”
Moving to Arizona For Help
For the Higgins family, the program reaffirmed that the life change they’d made was the right one. After being unable to find help in Florida, they began researching services available in other states. A video posted by SARRC came up in their searches, and watching it prompted a call to the organization.
“My husband called and he spoke with someone at SARRC for over an hour asking questions and getting information, and he hung up the phone and said, ‘We have to move to Arizona.’
“Arizona is truly a unique place,” she continues. “I don’t know if people realize how wonderful it is to be in a community where for inclusion is part of everyday life. You see it at the store, at the mall, you see it at the zoo… just everywhere. There are people with disabilities living and working among us and everyone is so friendly and accommodating.
“It is not like that in every state, it’s just not. And sometimes I want to cry tears of joy when I see the kindness of these random things or meet people using a wheelchair or communication device at their jobs. It really is an amazing place to be and I’m so glad we made it here. We are incredibly thankful to SARRC and to all the service providers we have met along the way. And now we have a future to look forward to.”