When experts talk about autism, they note that early diagnosis and intervention can often make a world of difference. This is true for Chandler family Jenn, George and their 5-year-old son Derek who was diagnosed with autism at 16 months.
“Our time at SARRC was and continues to be life changing,” Jenn says about her family’s experience. “They gave us hope and support at a time we needed it the most. They have become part of our family. They were there with us to celebrate all the accomplishments and they helped and supported us through all the rough times, and continue to do so. They taught us the tools we needed to implement what worked for Derek at home to keep things consistent. SARRC has been outstanding and I don’t know where we would be without their support! We truly are thankful for all of the staff.”
Jenn, an online reseller, and George, a senior SAP consultant, say that they found SARRC through a family member. After Derek was diagnosed, the family went through SARRC’s JumpStart Program in 2012 when he was 19 months.
“Derek was non-verbal until he attended JumpStart at SARRC,” Jenn says. “The program was amazing; it was what we needed and it gave us direction and knowledge about autism and the tools to help us work with Derek. It also gave us hope. The program was only a few weeks long but the progress he made was tremendous.”
Derek then began Community School when he was 23 months old and was there until he graduated this past spring at age 5. He currently attends kindergarten at a public charter school with an aide from SARRC in the classroom. “He also receives three 1-on-1 sessions at our home and a parent training session which includes one or both of the parents per week,” Jenn says.
Both Jenn and George agree that all of their experiences with SARRC have helped the family on their autism journey.
“They [SARRC] have taught us the tools to help him [Derek] and we have seen the positive effect that it has had on our son,” Jenn explains. “We have had and still receive parent training sessions which help us work through issues that we may be having at home. I am so grateful to have these sessions and the one-on-one support.”
Today, thanks to his own hard work, dedicated parents and SARRC, Jenn says that—while challenges still exist—Derek is doing better than ever.
“Derek is currently 5 and he is the most loving, caring, thoughtful, smart, talkative, funny little boy,” she says. “He wants to be a pilot, astronaut, geologist, astronomer and a daddy when he grows. He loves planes, the solar system and studying rocks. He also loves to sing and is very artistic. He enjoys playing basketball, baseball and we are currently teaching him how to ice skate.”
“My hopes and dreams for him would be that people see him for the amazing boy he is,” Jenn continues. “I want him to grow up to be an independent man who graduates high school and goes to college. I want him to get a job that he loves! I want him to get married and have a family. But, most importantly, I want him to be happy.”
While the road has been challenging, Derek’s parents both note that they have learned a lot through their experiences with autism.
“Although this autism journey has been and will continue to be extremely challenging and exhausting it makes you learn so much about yourself,” Jenn says. “You see how strong you truly are and you learn to appreciate the little things in life. My son has helped me grow and become a better person and I am grateful for that.”
The JumpStart program at SARRC is a six-week program that 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 autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For more information on JumpStart, download this informational packet.
SARRC’s Community School has two locations in Tempe and Phoenix. It is an inclusive preschool program that provides intensive, ABA-based programming for children with ASD and high-quality early childhood education for typically developing children. All children ages 18 months to 5 years participate in one of four classrooms: Toddler, Preschool One, Preschool Two, and Pre-K. It has the lowest student-teacher ratios and the best-prepared teachers in the Valley.