“Calvin is the smartest person I know,” said a boy in his class. “He’s even smarter then my grandpa.” For a four-year-old to be smarter than anyone’s grandpa must mean they are S-M-A-R-T, smart. Calvin is known for his unique ability to make robots, airplanes and transformers out of play dough and blocks. Calvin is four and has autism.
Calvin first came to Heartspring Pediatric Services in September 2006, when he was just two years old. Calvin’s mom, Anne, brought him to Heartspring when she realized he was not talking like other two year olds. She also was concerned with Calvin being “in his own world”. At that time, he liked to play by himself and was very frustrated when he was unable to communicate his wants and needs. Anne recalls Calvin being a quiet infant who slept a lot. She felt he had always been closed off. When Calvin was three he saw Dr. Wayne Piersel at Heartspring and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
In the beginning Calvin received speech, occupational and physical therapies from Heartspring. Speech-language pathologist Rhonda Witherspoon recalled Calvin as having inconsistent behavior and a short attention span. These skills had to be addressed before Calvin could begin to work on communication or any other areas of need. Calvin began seeing Rhonda in January 2007 and continues to work with her today. She taught Calvin to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). He was quick to learn how to discriminate between pictures, select correct pictures, and use PECS to get a desired item. “Rhonda has been there since the beginning,” said Anne. Calvin is now beginning to talk spontaneously and repeats most words he hears. Anne said she doesn’t even care that he has learned the word no. She and her husband, Heath, just tell him to keep talking. ‘We love to hear your voice’ they tell Calvin. According to Anne they will never tell him to be quiet, maybe just to use his inside voice.
Calvin also continues to receive occupational therapy from Teresa Young. Teresa and Calvin work on muscle strengthening, grasp, stacking, lacing and visual perception tasks. Calvin is able to use a first-then task strip to complete activities, and has made progress on his goals and objectives. Some of his favorite activities during therapy are playing with play dough and building with all kinds of blocks. Calvin is able to do many activities placed before him; he just has his own ideas of how they should be used or what he should make. Using a pencil and writing are not some of Calvin’s favorite tasks. Teresa has to be creative in how these tasks are presented and practiced.
In January 2008, the state of Kansas began a waiver program for children diagnosed with autism. Anne and Heath applied for the waiver and Calvin was accepted into the program. The Kansas Early Autism Waiver program was designed to help families by providing 25 hours of evidence based practices for children ages five and under each week. Calvin began his program in January 2009 receiving one on one support from Heartspring employee Andi Tatom who is able to bring program consistency and structure into Calvin’s daycare setting. “Putting visual supports and a communication system into place was a high priority to the family and to the staff at the day care center,” said Kimberly Becker, director of Pediatric Services and Calvin’s autism specialist. “Calvin loved Andi from the first day he saw her,” she said. “It felt as if he knew she was what he needed.” Calvin has thrived on the structure, work tasks, and visual supports from the first day. He was doing and saying things no one ever expected in the first week of services. Anne and Heath have also seen a change at home. “Calvin is more relaxed at home,” said Anne. He is saying more words and not nearly as frustrated as he has been. “We have seen a great change in him the last month or two,” she said. “Andi has been able to provide that consistency he needed for five hours a day.”
Calvin is making such great progress in all areas of his life. The staff members at Heartspring are honored to work with him and see the positive changes in this adorable little man.