Picture a sweet babbling toddler. Now picture a three-year-old screaming and slamming her head every time you try to exit the house. Cue the early years of Ave Arreola.
Despite a rough birth in which her twin sister died, Ave began life similarly to any other baby. She followed typical developmental patterns, babbling and engaging with her surroundings, until the age of 2, when she abruptly fell silent and stopped interacting with her parents and peers. A diagnosis of “autism” shortly followed as her temper tantrums escalated. Her parents desperately sought a solution to calm their daughter’s seemingly unstable reality.
The Arreola family started bringing Ave to therapy at the Center for Children with Autism at Metrocare Services in Dallas, TX. Metrocare Services opened a few years ago after administration noticed the growing population of autistics in the Dallas area. The center just opened a second location recently, so they are now able to serve an additional 270 children with ASD who come from low-income backgrounds.
Despite a rocky start, therapists there have been able to begin developing routines and coping mechanisms for Ave to attach to during times of emotional duress. The center teaches social skills to the children and helps parents develop custom programs to help their children.
After years of silence, 5 year old Ave unexpectedly wished her 19 year-old brother a “Happy Birthday!” while the family was celebrating. They are the first words she has spoken since she was two. Since then, she’s begun singing along to TV shows, and her speech therapists have had greater success in reciprocally communicating with her.
“I don’t think we ever give up on the hope that a child will talk,” said Sarah Loera, program manager at the Center for Children, to Dallas News.
Work with the Metrocare clinic has not only given the Arreola’s daughter’s voice back, but has stabilized their entire family structure. Therapists have helped them design behavioral strategies for Ave to follow, and have given them advice on how to make Ave’s immediate world a little less daunting.
Sara Power, Fordham University