Health & Wellness

Feb 7, 2012 8:44 PM by Erin Schermele (Great Falls)

Great Falls family uses different autism therapies

Six months ago, Leighton Larsen of Great Falls struggled to communicate with his parents.

His mother Gay recalled, "He repeats everything back that you would say. He wouldn't have a conversation with you, he would just repeat. You would say, 'We are going to the store,' and he'd say 'We're going to the store.'"

But after months of a variety of different autism therapies, his family is seeing major improvements.

Gay said, "Now we say, 'We are going to the store,' and he says, 'Well what store?' Or you know, 'I want to go to Shopko to look at the toys.' So he is actually communicating back and being receptive."

The Larsen family uses a combination of speech, occupational, and physical therapy, along with applied behavior analysis (ABA) and the PLAY project, all aimed at helping Leighton function with autism.

Gay explained, "It's not like a diagnosis of any other type of disease when there is an algorithm that says you start with this, then you go there and if that doesn't work you move over to this thing. You kind of have to 'cookie cutter' the therapies based on your child."

Three days a week, Leighton works with ABA autism trainer Erin Faulkner, focusing on learned skills and behaviors.

Faulkner said, "Whereas in school they might get asked only one time what letter this is, we are going to ask them over and over and over again. And we reinforce all the correct answers, so we are providing prompting and reinforcing at different levels to be able to increase the response that we want."

The trainers collect data to be scientifically analyzed in order to determine Leighton's progression and in what way his specific program needs to develop.

PLAY consultant Abbey Hood explained, "We're going to bring them to a much more of a normal or typical behavior and performance, than they would if they didn't have these services, but there may still always be a piece that is there. They may always have a little struggle and have to pay attention to those social roles that most of us don't have to pay attention to."

Hood works with the Larsens once a month to focus on the fix developmental phases that children go through, showing them how to interact with Leighton so he is working on certain developmental skills.

Hood commented, "One thing that we do know about kids on the spectrum is (that) the more intense their therapy is, the more progress they make."

The Larsens pored over dozens of studies to determine what therapies will help Leighton the most, and are pleased with the progress Leighton has made thus far - but their research isn't over and the Larsens will continue to try any therapies to help their son.

RESOURCES:

PLAY program

MT OPI Montana Autism Education Project

MT DDP Autism Information

Autism Society

Note: links are not necessarily endorsed by KRTV or the Larsens; they are provided to assist people in learning more about autism.

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